Commentary: UAV use in ag being derailed by hobbyists


By Rich Keller, Editor, Ag Professional

How in the world are we going to receive agricultural use approval for drones/unmanned aerial vehicles with all the knuckleheads buying small UAVs over the internet or at the hobby store and flying them around like kids playing with Matchbox toy cars?

UAVs can have important uses in agriculture, law enforcement and many industries, but Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials are worried about drones whizzing around airports and over high-security sites across the nation.

“Before last year, close encounters with rogue drones were unheard of. But as a result of a sales boom, largely unregulated remote-control aircraft are clogging U.S. airspace, snarling air traffic and giving the FAA fits,” wrote Craig Whitlock for an article in The Washington Post.

Whitlock wrote that on Aug. 16 a total of 12 “episodes” were reported relating to drones being near or “interfering with airplanes or coming too close to airports,” according to information filed with the FAA.

Even though the anticipated FAA approval for UAVs to be used over agricultural space is probably going to be somewhere less than 500 feet, the FAA still sees a concern with local non-commercial aircraft, and especially crop dusters.

Another concern has to be in the size of UAVs for economical precision ag work. For commercial use by crop consultants, ag retailers, etc., UAVs need to be larger than many on the market today to stay in the air longer and carry a wider payload of cameras and remote sensing equipment, according to some precision ag specialists.

The Washington Post article mentions a report being filed of “a dishwasher” sized drone flying at 9,500 feet near Johnstown, Penn. That is too large at too high of an altitude, but approval of UAVs that are large enough to apply pesticides with pinpoint accuracy means there could eventually be some fairly large UAVs in the countryside.

So, what do we or the FAA do about the knuckleheads who just want to experiment with flying a drone and taking pictures/videos from the air and showing no concern about being legal? It is similar to people shooting illegal fireworks off on the 4th of July. Too many law breakers spread around who can quickly run away to avoid prosecution.

A UAV flying too high but without proof becomes a he said, she said type of situation.

I’m going to upset people by suggesting having too many drones in the air is unnecessary and that they have to, in most cases, be eliminated as toys for hobbyists to buy. That means buying a UAV would require registering its intended commercial use, and the FAA would have a registration list of UAVs just like there is a list of registered aircraft. We have to register our cars and trucks, maybe we have to register our UAVs.

To read the full Wasthington Post article about drones buzzing around airports and airplanes, click here.