On May 1, 2015, the FAA approved the first section 333 exemption request for approval to fly an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or drone) over crops for purposes of spraying a wide-array of material (watering, fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides). The ruling can be found here. The exemption approval notes that vehicle at issue, the Yamaha RMAX Type II G, “can also be equipped with sensors and equipment to detect and monitor agricultural areas that require irrigation, fertilization, or other treatments.”

The RMAX is a rotorcraft (a small helicopter) and “it is 9 feet long and 3 feet 6 inches tall, has an empty weight of 141 lbs. and a load capacity of about 61 pounds for both liquid and granular applications. The main rotor is about 10 feet in diameter and extends 4 feet from either side of the RMAX and less than 3 feet from its front.” You can find information about the RMAX here.

Notably, it is powered by unleaded fuel as opposed to an electronic battery. Yamaha’s filing emphasized its “20 year history of use in Japan and its recent approved use in Australia and South Korea.”

The exemption details that the RMAX will be flown in visual line of sight in daylight hours, will utilize a FAA certified pilot trained to use the RMAX along with a spotter and will be limited to a maximum altitude of 400 feet.

The FAA ruling allows the RMAX to be operated for compensation or hire and is not limited to a particular parcel of land but requires the pilot to hold at least one type of several pilot certificates: sport, recreational, private, commercial, or airline transport. The ruling notes that all “agricultural related services would be under the direction, supervision, and control of Yamaha” so it does not appear that this ruling with open the door for custom applicators to simply purchase an RMAX and provide custom application services.

The FAA’s ruling seems to signal a more flexible approach to use of UAV in agriculture and it is likely that custom applicators with a necessary pilot certificate might further open the door for applications by entities beyond Yamaha.

Husch Blackwell’s UAV team will continue to monitor important developments in the UAV arena, including their expanded use in precision agriculture.