Public Policy

Don't Forget the Little Guy: FAA's Proposed Rules for "Micro" UAVs

Many articles have been written about the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) proposed rules for "small" unmanned aircraft systems ("small UAS" or "small UAVs"). But most authors have overlooked that the FAA is also considering special, less stringent rules for "micro" UAVs. Micro UAVs weigh less than 4.4 lbs (small drones are less than 55 lbs.) and travel less than 35 mph (small drones are restricted to 100 mph). This article takes a closer look at the FAA's proposal for micro-UAVs and its promise for agriculture.

A "micro" UAV is not necessarily the nano-drone that make the evening news. A 4.4 lb aircraft can still be significant in size and accomplish useful farm related tasks. Sensefly's Ebee Ag drone, for example, has a 38" wingspan but weighs only 1.5 lbs., since it is mainly made from Styrofoam. Still, it can cover a huge area in a short span of time since it flies methodically over fields in back and forth swaths.

The FAA's proposed small drone rule explains that "the FAA is considering a micro UAS classification" based upon policies adopted in other countries. (The micro drone rule begins on page 9556 in the Federal Register). The micro drone rule would have some significant differences from the small drone rule, including:

   Altitude would be limited to 400 feet.
   Flying over any person would be allowed.
   Drones must be made from "frangible" material--meaning they would break up upon collision with another aircraft or person.
   Flying would be within the line of sight and not more than 1,500 feet away from the operator.
   Fully autonomous flight would be prohibited. Manual control required at all times.
   The operator would not need to take a knowledge test, but could self-certify to obtain a micro UAS airman certificate. This addresses one of the biggest complaints with the small drone rule--that it requires operator approval from the FAA.

The FAA really needs to hear from you about the micro drone rule. I think its a great idea to have a less stringent, micro drone classification and set of rules. But I would encourage the FAA to relax the autonomous flight prohibition in this draft. The real value in crop scouting drones is their ability to methodically cross a field and stitch the images together into a single, high resolution map. That is only possible with autonomous flight.

Send comments to:
U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., Room W12–140
West Building Ground Floor
Washington, DC 20590–0001

Read more at Janzen Ag Law Blog by Todd Janzen, Partner, Plews Shadley Racher & Braun LLP.

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