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Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) / Drones Regulation Overview
Agricultural UAS/Drones in the U.S.
Flying a drone is not complicated. Planning a mission and putting the drone in flight is simple. However, the rules governing the use of drones within the United States can be complicated. This overview helps summarize the key terminology and important factors you need to know prior to flying drones.
Part 107 in detail
More specifically, the Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule (Part 107). This rule applies to commercial pilots operating a UAS weighing less than 55 lbs. Commercial is defined as operating in support of any business. This doesn’t leave too much to chance. It’s important to note that you must register all drones weighing between .55 and 55 lbs. Your drone registration must be renewed every 3 years.
The following list is a summary of the rules that a part 107 pilot must operate under. Keeping in mind that you can apply for waivers to any of these rules. We will outline later in this overview the list of rules you need a waiver when operating a spray drone.
Operational Requirements for Small UAS/Drones
Unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs (25 kg).
- The aircraft must remain within Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) of the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls. Alternatively, the aircraft must remain within VLOS of the visual observer.
- At all times the aircraft must remain close enough to the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls for them to be capable of seeing the aircraft with vision unaided by any device other than corrective lenses.
- Small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly participating in the operation, not under a covered structure, and not inside a covered stationary vehicle.
- Daylight-only operations, or civil twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) with appropriate anti-collision lighting.
- Must yield right of way to other aircraft.
- May use visual observer (VO) but not required.
- First-person view camera cannot satisfy “see-and-avoid requirement but can be used as long as requirement is satisfied in other ways.
- Maximum groundspeed of 100 mph (87 knots).
- Maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground level (AGL) or, if higher than 400 feet AGL, remain within 400 feet of the top of a structure.
- Minimum weather visibility of 3 miles from control station.
- Operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace are allowed with the required Air Traffic Control
- Operations in Class G airspace are allowed without ATC
- No person may act as a remote pilot in command or VO for more than one unmanned aircraft operation at one time.
- No operations from a moving aircraft.
- No operations from a moving vehicle unless the operation is over a sparsely populated area.
- No careless or reckless operations.
- No carriage of hazardous materials (pesticides are considered hazardous materials)
Remote Pilot in Command Responsibilities
Requires preflight inspection by the remote pilot in command.
- A person may not operate a small unmanned aircraft if he or she knows or has reason to know of any physical or mental condition that would interfere with the safe operation of a small UAS.
- External load operations are allowed if the object being carried by the unmanned aircraft is securely attached and does not adversely affect the flight characteristics or controllability of the aircraft.
- Transportation of property for compensation or hire allowed provided that:
- The aircraft, including its attached systems, payload and cargo weigh less than 55 pounds total
- The flight is conducted within visual line of sight and not from a moving vehicle or aircraft; and
- The flight occurs wholly within the bounds of a State and does not involve transport between (1) Hawaii and another place in Hawaii through airspace outside Hawaii; (2) the District of Columbia and another place in the District of Columbia; or (3) a territory or possession of the United States and another place in the same territory or possession.
- A person operating a small UAS 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).
Part 137 Operations
Part 137 is the FAA regulation that governs the use of any aircraft in either private or commercial agricultural operations. The FAA Circular mentioned above applies to persons or entities that are seeking either a Private or Commercial Agricultural Aircraft Operator Certificate. Part 137 defines operating limitations for private operators, but the certification process for both private and commercial applicants is identical.
So to be clear, in order to use a drone (no matter of its weight) in agricultural spraying operations, both private and commercial, you must apply to your local Flight Services District Office (FSDO) for a Part 137 Certificate. Use the FAA Circular as a set of directions for completing that application.
In addition, the operator will need to apply for exemptions to certain rules in Part 137 since they were written for manned aircraft, or your operations require exemption based on operational limitations. The exemptions are requested through a “petition for exemption” as described in the 44807 Guidance page.
Volitant Suggested Sequence / Checklist
If you intend to operate under a corporation or LLC, get that done first.
- Petition for your exemptions using regulations.gov.
- After purchasing your drone you must provide it’s serial number to begin the registration process.
- Apply to your local FSDO for your Part 137 certificate.
- Apply for your drone registration.
- Develop your training and flight operations manuals. This will be submitted with your petition for exemption and will be inspected by the FSDO.
Although this process can seem quite complicated, it all fits together in the end. Check with the Volitant Technologies team (email@example.com) for options should you want to explore more details when completing this process.
A set of rules governing flights of commercial Small UAS weighing less than 55 lbs. Pilot must pass a knowledge test administered by an FAA testing facility.
Rules for drones used to dispense any economic hazard. This also includes spreading seeds and other particles. Written to govern fixed wing and helicopters used in agricultural services. Multiple exemptions are required to allow pilots to operate drones under this rule.
Governs the flight of drones weighing over 55 lbs. Pilots may apply for certain exemptions to this rule.
Drones weighing more that .55 lbs but less than 55 lbs are required to be registered using the FAA Drone Zone website.