Flying a Drone for Business: A Guide for the Agriculture Professional

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For at almost half a decade, United States farmers and ranchers have been seeking a path to unmanned aerial systems implementation. With rules in place, ag professionals can now map out a plan that allows for flying a drone for business safely and legally!


Beau
Oct 10, 2016

Rewind to 2012: The Curiosity Rover landed on Mars, the Giants swept the Tigers in the World Series, a gallon of gas averaged $3.91 (yikes!), and the Federal Aviation Administration was given a three year deadline to integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace. As we all know by now, the FAA missed its deadline for a proper implementation strategy for drones, leaving the industry in the “Wild West” of airspace regulation.

 

Leading up to the 2015 deadline, many in agribusiness looking to get ahead of the game only to find the [inevitable] lack of regulation seriously hampering the ability to form a plan that would allow for flying a drone for business purposes. The trailblazers of the day could very well have found their plans stymied by the likes of investors unable to justify a plan with a murky regulatory environment compounded by a lack of history regarding return on investment. Today in 2016 (in addition to cheaper fuel prices :)), we now have a streamlined unmanned aircraft registration system coupled with the a proper remote pilot certification bestowed on us by Part 107.  Sure, we have the tools in place, but the path still isn’t always so clear cut. If until now you’ve been frittering around under the banner of a hobbyist, then you’ve got no more reason to wait. Whether for your own operation or for others, it’s time to fly professionally.

Step one: Get a Drone.

Sure you’ve probably got a drone already, but is it the best fit for what you’re looking to do? Flying a drone for business is not a reason in and of itself to break your piggy bank over something with features outside of your wheelhouse. Do your homework: Know the use case before you buy and don’t be afraid to vet those ideas to folks that have been there already. When it’s time to buy, procure something capable of the task you wish to perform. Remember the system in UAS; paying heed to platform, sensor, and software alike.

Step two: Register!

If you already have an aircraft for hobby use, then you’ve probably jumped through this hoop before. Effective November of 2015, all aircraft in the U.S. under 0.55 lbs (that’s just shy of 9 ounces) must be registered; regardless of intended use. This time around, as you’re flying a drone for business and not for fun and enjoyment’s sake, you’ll want to register that aircraft for commercial use. If you’re under the fifty-five pound limit for unmanned aircraft, the process is nearly identical to the hobbyist registration; save two distinctions: First, you’ll be registering on behalf of a business; and second, you’ll need to register each aircraft as opposed to the enthusiast-level, operator specific, “blanket” registration. Oh, and mark your calendar, because you’ll need to re-up in three years!

Step three: Insure!

I’m not here to sell you insurance. However, I will tell you that without proper liability insurance, your business will be severely limited in the number and kind of jobs available. Even if you’re planning on using your drone exclusively as a part of your own operation, chances are you’ve got neighbors; and liability insurance keeps everyone civil when something unexpected happens. Not sure where to start? You’ve bought insurance before right? Same thing. Do some searching, get some quotes, and pull the trigger on a policy.  That said, the information age and social media has really helped along the decision-making process. There are groups on social media that provide friendly advice, and if you’re not ready to pull the trigger on that big policy, now you can even get insurance by the mission.

As a side, we’d also recommend keeping that AMA membership up-to-date as well. The liability coverage when flying under the enthusiast banner is quite good for the price, and provides coverage when you’re flying for yourself and not flying a drone for business.

Step four: Become a Remote Pilot!

It all comes down to this final step! In this writer’s opinion, the prior three steps are really not all that over-burdensome. The proper and modern regulation that comes with part 107 is significantly less complicated and much more flexible than what we had prior. In addition, there are numerous guides out there to assist you in your success. That said, if I had to just pick just one, the 3D Robotics Remote Drone Pilot License Resources site is a fantastic resource. When coupled with regular reading of the proper FAA published materials, there’s really no excuse why you shouldn’t be able to exchange  $150 and two hours of your time for a passing grade that will enable a fledgling remote pilot to take it to the next level and begin flying a drone for business.

 

So, are you looking at flying a drone for business and have a few lingering questions? Or, are you flying professionally and would care to share your experiences with those who are still onboarding?  Regardless of where you are on the path to entrepreneurship, feel free to follow the link below and share in the forums!

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