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Drones May Soon Take Off in Agriculture Industry

On Feb. 15, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has released its long-awaited notice of proposed rules with respect to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Once finalized, the proposed rules will replace the current almost-universal ban on flying UAS for commercial purposes with a protocol for authorizing operations for commercial flights of small UAS weighing up to 55 pounds.

The new rules limit unmanned flight to daylight and visual-line-of-sight operations in addition to addressing height restrictions, operator certification, optional use of a visual observer, aircraft registration and marking, and operational limits.

Several precision agriculture companies have already received authorization from the FAA to use unmanned aircraft prior to the announcement of the proposed rule through a lengthy petition process. Those companies employ unmanned aircraft to conduct precision photogrammetry and crop scouting. The data collected from the UAS can direct variable seeding rates as well as the precise application of fertilizer and chemicals which allows farmers to maximize crop yield while reducing costs.

If the UAS will weigh more than 55 pounds, such as a UAS that would be used for crop spraying, a variance from the rules will remain necessary.

The new rules have not yet gone into effect. There will be a 60 day public comment window on the new regulation. This is an ideal opportunity for businesses to offer input that will shape the future of UAS regulation. For example, the FAA has explicitly invited comments on the visual-line-of-sight requirement included in the notice of proposed rulemaking. As it stands, this requirement puts a damper on the effectiveness of UAS when covering large or remote fields.

The current unmanned aircraft rules will remain effective until the new rule is implemented sometime after the public comment period has closed.

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About this Author

Connie Lahn, Barnes Thornburg Law Firm, Minneapolis, Corporate and Litigation Law Attorney
Partner

Connie A. Lahn is the managing partner of the Minneapolis office of Barnes & Thornburg. She is a member of the Finance, Insolvency and Restructuring Department and co-chairs the Asset Revitalization Practice Group. Ms. Lahn is also the co-chair of the firm’s Special Servicer Team. She also serves on the firm's diversity and inclusion committee. Ms. Lahn focuses her practice on bankruptcy law, workouts, equipment leasing issues, foreclosures, real estate remedies, commercial mortgage-backed securities defaults, and related commercial litigation. Additionally, she...

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Clifford G. Maine, Barnes Thornburg Law Firm, Grand Rapids, Corporate Law Attorney
Partner

Clifford G. Maine is chairman of the firm’s Aviation Law Group. Mr. Maine's practice encompasses a wide variety of aviation law practice areas. He serves as general counsel to numerous aviation organizations, including the Southwest Michigan Regional Airport Authority.

Mr. Maine’s aviation clients include some of the largest corporate flight departments in the world. He has structured numerous aviation transactions, including domestic and foreign-based aircraft purchase and sale transactions, like-kind exchanges, timeshare agreements, interchange agreements, joint and fractional ownership agreements, personal and executive use policies, FAA registrations, Capetown International Registry, and aircraft leasing transactions. Mr. Maine also provides legal counsel on tax-related aviation issues including federal excise tax planning, state sales and use tax planning, and depreciation planning.

In addition to his transactional practice, Mr. Maine regularly represents clients in complex aviation lawsuits and frequently advises on aviation insurance coverage matters, warranty matters, ongoing service requirements, and regulatory requirements.

He is a founding member and Chair of the Tax Committee of the National Business Aircraft Association and serves on the Board of Directors of the Michigan Business Aircraft Association. Mr. Maine also serves on the State Bar of Michigan Aviation Section (a section of the bar in which he acted as a founding member and past chairperson).

616-742-3944