The agricultural use of drones depends on whether the farmer is growing crops commercially or for personal enjoyment, says Elizabeth Cory, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman.
An FAA interpretation June 23 of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft notes the approval of hobby use, or “viewing a field to determine whether crops need water when they are grown for personal enjoyment,” as an example of hobby or recreation use.
However, crops grown “as part of a commercial farming operation” currently require a certified aircraft, a licensed pilot and operating approval, Cory said.
She noted the FAA plans to publish the proposed rule for small unmanned aircraft – less than 55 pounds – later this year.
Meanwhile, Congress has requested that the FAA set guidelines on drones by 2015, although some wonder if the agency will meet the deadline.
The guidelines, however, could mean approval for wider use by farmers, said Tom Nichol, who is in charge of business development for Neodesha’s AgEagle, a company that manufactures unmanned aircraft specifically for agriculture.
“They may provide some narrow exemptions as early as this fall, but (the FAA is) more likely to rule in 2015,” he said. “To what extent those rules are and what they cover is still to be determined.”
He said four areas where they may provide exemptions include the film industry and for oil and gas exploration, real-estate business and agriculture.