Agricultural drone operators who do not take precautions to when flying near low flying ag aircraft risk damage to equipment and injury to individuals.
The risk for collisions between ag drones and agricultural aircraft is increased due to the fact that the latter often perform their operations below 400 feet, the maximum height at which drones are allowed to fly.
Because of this and increasing incidents between drones and aircraft, National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) are urging drone operators to undertake a number of steps in order to ensure the safety of themselves, and that of those around them.
NAAA Executive Director Andrew Moore explains that it is also the high speeds at which these aircraft operate that presents increased risk of danger.
“It’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for agricultural aviators to see UAVs because our members are doing precision agricultural work while flying at speeds of up to 140 mph,” he said.
“That’s why it’s so important for UAV operators to be aware of agricultural aviation operations in their area and take precautions to protect individuals both in the air and on the ground.”
One particular incident of a near miss between a UAV and an ag aircraft that occurred in Iowa last summer highlighted the problem.
Purpose-built agricultural drones such as those made by Microdrones have many useful features but may still require additions such as strobe lights.
The full list of steps that the NAAA recommends that UAV operators take include:
- Equip drones with tracking technology, such as ADS-B, so other aircraft similarly equipped know of their positions.
- Get certified and well-trained in operating a UAV.
- Contact local agricultural aviation operations before flying by consulting AgAviation.org/findapplicator.
- Equip UAVs with visible strobe lights.
- Give the right-of-way to a manned aircraft. It’s the law.
- Land your UAV immediately when a low-flying aircraft is nearby.
- Carry UAV liability insurance.
With the ag aviation industry applying crop protection products to 71 million acres of cropland each year in the USA alone, its easy to see how imperative these steps are to take.
A comparison between the damage caused by a relatively light bird and the potential damage a drone can cause also highlights to potential dangers of unsafe drone operations in agriculture.
“When birds hit an ag aircraft, they can break through an aircraft’s windshield causing deadly accidents. A study conducted by the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) showed UAV collisions with aircraft cause more damage than would a bird strike of similar size, due partially to UAVs’ dense motors and batteries, as opposed to a bird made mostly of water, feathers, hollow bones and sinew,” the NAAA said.
Since the Part 107 rule from the Federal Aviation Administration went into effect in August 2017, more than 60,000 people have obtained a remote pilot certificate. More than 1 million UAVs are registered with the FAA—of which more than 80,000 individual UAVs have been registered for commercial and government purposes.