By Jim Patrico
Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
PLATTSBURG, Mo. (DTN) -- The fog has cleared and farmers are ready to fly. The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday issued some long awaited regulations for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). Also called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and drones, the technology has long fascinated and tantalized farmers.
Fascinated because drones provide the potential to scout crops from the air on short notice. A farmer could theoretically crank up a rotorcraft or fixed winged vehicle and have it take photos of fields to show crop growth and problem areas in either true color or near infrared. He could then create prescriptions maps from the images and take steps to correct problems.
The ag industry was tantalized by UAVs because the FAA took several years to write regulations for their commercial use. In part the delay was because of external factors: Technologies rapidly became more sophisticated and some high profile drone incidents caused security and privacy concerns (As when a UAV landed on the White House lawn.) In part, the delay was because the FAA missed its self-imposed deadlines. Whatever the cause, the delay left farmers and ag service providers grounded. Without clear guidance, they were unsure of what was legal and what could lead to fines.
Additionally, agriculture is considered the largest potential market for UAV use, according to studies from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems.
More than 5,300 commercial UAS users did not wait for the new regulations. Instead, they applied for and received Section 333 exemptions, which allowed them to fly drones.
In explaining why the FAA was so deliberate, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told USA Today: "We wanted to make sure we're striking the right balance between innovation and safety." He called the new rules a "major milestone."
Here are some highlights of the new regs, which still have a 60-day comment period and won't be official until August:
-- UAS must weigh less than 55 pounds (including payload such as cameras), fly no more than 100 mph and stay within 400 feet of the ground.
-- They must remain in sight of the operator, and flights must be during daylight hours.
-- The operator "must either hold a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating or be under the direct supervision of a person who does hold a remote pilot certificate (remote pilot in command).
-- To obtain a remote pilot airman certificate, you must either pass an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA testing center or already hold a "part 61 pilot certificate." A third option might appeal to farmers and ag service providers: You can complete an online UAS online training course provided by the FAA.
UAS operators also have to be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and be at least 16 years old.
Earlier FAA regulations called for registration of UAS.
Here is an FAA website with more details: http://www.faa.gov/…
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