Proposed FAA Rules Would Open the Sky to Ag "Drones"

February 16, 2015 | Kristine A. Tidgren

The FAA released proposed rules on February 15, 2015, that would, if implemented, finally open the door for the use of small unmanned aircraift systems (UAS) in agriculture and other industries. Although the rule is not in its final form and does not authorize the immediate use of UAS, it is the first regulatory step toward acceptance and integration of the technology that has outpaced its necessary regulatory framework.

The proposed rule, which only applies to UAS weighing less than 55 pounds, is not as restrictive has some had expected. Flying a UAS would require an unmanned aircraft operator certificate with a small UAS rating, a new certificate the FAA would issue after the applicant successfully passes a knowledge test and a security screen conducted by the Transportation Safety Administration. The cost of this process, including a registration fee, is projected to be only around $200.

Once cleared for flying, an operator would be required to, among other things:

  • Keep the UAS in the line of sight (but operator could be assisted by an unlicensed visual observer)
  • Fly below 500 feet
  • Fly only during daylight hours
  • Not exceed flight speeds of 100 MPH
  • Avoid flying over people not involved in the operation

The rule is not proposing a medical clearance or certificate, but only a prohibition against flying a UAS if the operator knows or has reason to know of any physical or mental condition that would interfere with its safe operation.

Finally, the proposed rule would not require an airworthiness certificate. Operators would agree to maintain their small UAS in condition for safe operation and agree to conduct an inspection prior to each flight. Each UAS would be registered with the FAA and would bear required aircraft markings.

All in all, this rule proposes fairly minor regulatory hurdles. It would, if it becomes fina, be a win for small UAS advocates.

The proposed rule can be read here. The FAA is seeking comment during a 60-day comment period. Our newsletter article from November details the need for these rules.

For a full article reviewing these regulations, click here.