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FAA Approves Yamaha’s Unmanned Helicopter Use in Precision Agriculture

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has come a long way toward integration of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into the national airspace, though there is still a ban on commercial UAV operation without express FAA approval. On May 1, regulators took another large step by granting Yamaha an exemption in order to operate a UAV large enough for crop-spraying operations. It is called the RMAX, and it is larger and heavier than any unmanned aircraft system previously approved to operate in U.S. airspace. The RMAX is 9 feet long and 3 feet by 6 inches tall, has an empty weight of 141 pounds, and a load capacity of about 61 pounds for both liquid and granular applications.

The RMAX will immediately prove its use in precision agriculture to U.S. farmers by allowing increased productivity, lower costs and reducing the amount of chemicals needed to treat fields. It does all of this while also being safer than other air and ground based chemical treatment methods—it reduces human exposure to chemicals and is less likely than manned aircraft to cause damage in the event of an accident.

Yamaha cited the RMAX’s proven track record in support of its petition. It has been in use for more than 20 years in Japan, and was more recently approved for operations in both Australia and South Korea. The UAV has logged two million flight hours over 2.4 million acres of farmland in Japan alone and has never been the cause of an accident that caused human injury.

However, the FAA did issue restrictions on the use of the RMAX in order to ensure safety. It can only be operated in uninhabited areas within the visual-line-of-sight of both a certified pilot and a visual observer. At no time is the UAV to exceed 400 feet above the ground or 45 miles per hour.

This approval adds to the list of UAV uses the FAA has permitted through its exemption process, including crop surveying and monitoring.

© 2020 BARNES & THORNBURG LLPNational Law Review, Volume V, Number 128


About this Author

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

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...

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

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).