Drones Face U.S. Regulatory Burden

Farmers may be able to fly unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over their fields, but the legal and privacy risks must still be resolved.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or “drones” could help farmers make more timely, informed decisions about their operation by providing birds-eye views of fields and new ways to use precision data.

But there are rules that pertain to airspace as well. So if a farmer purchases a UAV, is it legal to use them?

The answer appears to be “yes,” “no” and “maybe,” says Rory Paul, founder of Chesterfield, Mo.-based Volt Aerial Robotics.

Federal lawmakers have passed legislation that requires the FAA, by September 2015, to unveil a plan to incorporate UAVs into airspace regulations.

Ahead of that date, the agency is taking proposals to set up six test areas where UAVs can be flown without certificates of authorization or airworthiness so they can be put through tests and evaluation. The sites may be announced later this year.

Privacy is another sticking point. The FAA held an online forum earlier this month to discuss the issue publicly, and more than 30 states are considering their own laws concerning civilian use of UAVs.

Rules Clearly Unclear

The long-term future of UAV use on farms in the U.S. appears to rest with the FAA, which presides over the most complex air-traffic system in the world. Some 50,000 flights take off and land each day at 19,000 airports throughout the country, Paul says.

There are several levels of air space that require…

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John dobberstein2

John Dobberstein

John Dobberstein is senior editor of No-Till Farmer magazine and the e-newsletter Dryland No-TillerHe previously covered agriculture for the Tulsa World and worked for daily newspapers in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Joseph, Mich. He graduated with a B.A. in journalism and political science from Central Michigan University.

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