Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association

SAFETY FOR ALL: Share Air Space Wisely

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), more commonly referred to as drones, will inevitably play a critical role in the future of agriculture.

The Wisconsin Agricultural Aviation Association (WAAA) is an association made up of Wisconsin aerial application professionals treating over one million acres of Wisconsin cropland with crop protection products, fertilizers and cover crop seeds. The WAAA recognizes the potential role drones may play in agriculture but wish to inform the Wisconsin agricultural community of the potential dangers UAS may pose to low-level manned aircraft such as aerial application and air ambulance aircraft.

Currently the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is developing rules for the safe integration of small UAS (defined as UAS weighing less than 55 pounds) into the National Airspace System (NAS). Until FFA finalizes those rules, operation of UAS is limited to hobby or recreational purposes rendering any other use, illegal.

Current law does not allow for agricultural UAS use without a grant of exemption and a civil Certificate of Authorization (COA).

The FAA will issue a blanket COA for small UAS flights below 200 feet during the daytime in Visual Flight Conditions, operated within visual line of sight of the pilot (defined as the operator’s natural vision without the use of any other device other than corrective lenses), outside Restricted Use Airspace while maintaining certain distances away from airports or heliports. Please note that Wisconsin has several Restricted Use Airspace zones over agricultural lands, used routinely by the military.

Another element of concern to small UAS users is that of liability. Currently, no commercial insurance policy will cover financial losses to persons or property in the event of a mid-air collision between a small UAS and a manned aircraft. These losses can be significant even when the operator of a small UAS has complied with a COA’s provisions.

The WAAA feels agricultural users of small UAS’s can take the following steps beyond FAA requirements to mitigate the risk of mid-air collision with manned aircraft:

  • Do not operate a small UAS with clouds lower than 2000 feet and visibility less than five miles.
  • Utilize two operators during all flights to maintain line of site with the UAS and search for manned aircraft.
  • Land the UAS as quickly as possible anytime you see or hear a manned aircraft.
  • Install a strobe light on the vehicle used to transport the operators and UAS and activate the strobe during UAS flight.
  • Paint the small UAS aviation red and white.

The WAAA wishes to share the air safely with small UAS. We envision small UAS to be exceptional tools for improving field scouting efficiency. Furthermore, we believe the imagery captured by small UAS can potentially reduce fertilizer and pesticide usage since it can determine exact locations of pests and fertility deficient areas. Custom aerial applicators can use that information for more targeted and efficient application.

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Volume 15, Issue 47 | November 22, 2023

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