The US has approved a drone to spray crops with pesticides

A drone in the US has been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to carry fertilisers and pesticides to spray crops.

The drone, a Yamaha RMAX, is a remotely piloted helicopter and it is already in use in Japan by rice farmers.

Brian Wynne, President and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) said that the FAA is taking an important step forward to helping more industries in the US realise the benefits (drone) technology has to offer.

This latest exemption continues to highlight the tremendous potential unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have in agriculture, helping farmers to more safely, effectively and efficiently manage their crops and improve yields.

“Yamaha’s exemption represents the first time the agency has approved a UAS for crop-spraying and it is also the largest platform granted permission to operate in the US.

“For more than 20 years, Yamaha has been using the RMAX in Japan, Australia and South Korea. By granting this exemption, the FAA is taking an important step forward to helping more industries in the US realise the benefits UAS technology has to offer,” he said.

Under the new policy, the FAA will grant a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) for flights at or below 200ft to any UAS operator with a Section 333 exemption for aircraft that weigh less than 55 pounds (24.9kg).

It will operate during daytime Visual Flight Rules (VFR) conditions, operate within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the pilots, and stay certain distances away from airports or heliports:

  • Five nautical miles (NM) from an airport having an operational control tower; or
  • Three NM from an airport with a published instrument flight procedure, but not an operational tower; or
  • Two NM from an airport without a published instrument flight procedure or an operational tower; or
  • Two NM from a heliport with a published instrument flight procedure.

Smaller drones that only weigh several pounds have already been approved for limited use to take pictures that help farmers identify problems in their crops.

A report from AUVSI found that precision agriculture will make up 80% of the domestic UAS market, which is projected to create more than 100,000 jobs and $82 billion in economic impact in the first decade after FAA integration is complete.

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