For over two years I have been speaking to groups across Wisconsin about Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and their potential uses in agricultural applications. The vast majority of these presentations and discussions have been about remote sensing and crop scouting. The interest in this technology has been incredibly high due to the potential time savings and targeted identification of problem areas in a field during the growing season. While some producers and crop consultants have been “playing” with the UAV technology, most have been skittish to adopt UAVs due to pending regulation from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on legal UAV flights. Yesterday (August 29, 2016) the FAA put into effect the new rule, Part 107, that is a regulation designed to minimize risk to manned aircraft from the commercial use of UAVs. This is exciting news since the agriculture community has been waiting for this for over two years. In the paragraphs below I will outline some of the more important parts of this rule and link to some locations where you can find more information about taking the aeronautical knowledge test and receiving a remote pilot certificate.
Can I fly over my fields, on my land, for crop scouting? Commercial vs. personal/hobbyist use:
The short answer to this is no. The FAA defines recreational/hobby use of UAVs as:
“Recreational or hobby UAS use is flying for enjoyment and not for work, business purposes, or for compensation or hire. In the FAA’s Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, the FAA relied on the ordinary, dictionary definition of these terms. UAS use for hobby is a “pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation.” UAS use for recreation is “refreshment of strength and spirits after work; a means of refreshment or division.”” .
This implies that if a farmer were to use a UAV to scout his crops he would be flying the UAV in pursuit of his regular occupation and not for relaxation. This would also hold true for crop consultants. So to remain legal for using UAVs in the agricultural community we must have a Section 333 exemption from the FAA or preferably a Remote Pilot in Command license operating under the new Part 107 rule.
What makes Part 107 different from hobbyist flying parameters?
Not much, except a few details and the Remote Pilot in Command license requirement. To fly a UAV for fun you must register the UAV, label the UAV with the registration numbers, be at least 13 years of age, fly below 400 ft, keep the UAV within sight, never fly near airports, never fly over groups of people, never fly over stadiums, never fly near emergency response efforts, never fly under the influence, and be aware of airspace requirements . The new Part 107 rule essentially includes all of these restrictions and guidelines and adds things such as daylight operation only, maximum ground speed of 100 mph, air traffic control permission required for flights outside of class G airspace (above 400 feet), and Remote Pilot in Command license is required. A more complete summary of the Part 107 rule can be found here: .
What is required to become a Remote Pilot?
For individuals that already have a pilot’s license you must complete an on-line training course, complete an on-line knowledge test, and submit paperwork for the remote pilot certificate. The process is somewhat more involved for first-time pilots, but is similar. Instead of completing an on-line test, first-time pilots must make an appointment at an FAA Knowledge Testing Center to take the exam. Once the exam requirements are satisfied the remainder of the process is paperwork to receive your remote pilot’s license . There are study guides available to help you learn the exam material and an on-line course (ALC-451: Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems) you can take to learn more about Part 107 (registration required) .
How does the new Part 107 rule address privacy issues?
It doesn’t. Having your remote pilot license does not give you free rein to fly anywhere and everywhere under 400 feet. Utilizing this technology requires some common sense and common courtesy. When performing small UAV operations on a piece of property a notification to surrounding land owners would go a long way toward maintaining a professional reputation. It also will keep your UAV in working order and free of shotgun pellet holes.
The UAV technology is exciting and has potential to revolutionize how crop scouting is done. Regular flights over agricultural fields will provide more information about the crop than we have had in the past and the UAV technology will increase the efficiency of these scouting operations so that they can be completed more often. If people in the Agriculture Sector meet the requirements of the FAA for commercial UAV operations and are good stewards of the technology implementation and utilization will be much easier.
I plan to maintain updates on UAVs, remote sensing, and FAA regulations on this website. If you are interested in further reading and a good webinar series you can check out this site: . Also, the full Part 107 rule can be found here: .
References and Links:
7. Full Part 107 Rule: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/06/28/2016-15079/operation-and-certification-of-small-unmanned-aircraft-systems/
Brian D. Luck, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist
Biological Systems Engineering Department
University of Wisconsin-Madison
460 Henry Mall
Madison, WI 53706
This article was posted in Precision Agriculture, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and tagged FAA, Part 107, UAV.