Interested in buying or using a drone sprayer?
IMPORTANT: Before you buy one of these flying sprayers, read the part of this article talking about how the law affects the economics of your operations. I’ve had conversations with people who purchased spray drones to later realize they purchased a spray drone NOT efficient for their operations. Remember that drone sellers have an incentive to not tell you everything and just sell you the drone. Talk to the past customers of the drone sellers.
Drones are really just aerial platforms from which to do things. Most people associate drones as data collection platforms where you mount sensors such as cameras, LIDAR, etc., but drones can also be used for the delivery of all sorts of other things besides just drone package delivery or medical delivery. One great example is using the drone as a drone sprayer (a.k.a. flying sprayer). Keep in mind that there are attachments for drones to do things other than just spraying (e.g. drone granule spreader).
As of 6/16/2020, I’ve helped 22 clients obtain exemptions for agricultural aircraft operations (0 denials) and 7 clients obtain agricultural aircraft operating certificates. I’m a commercial pilot, current FAA certificated flight instructor, aviation attorney, and former professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. I distilled into this article some of the important points that I have used as I have assisted clients in successfully obtaining Federal Aviation Administration approvals to operate their drone sprayers. If you need my help with exemptions, a Part 107 night waiver, going through the 137 agricultural aircraft operator certification, please contact me for pricing.
Table of Contents of Article
- 1 Drone Sprayer Benefits
- 2 Drone Sprayer Examples:
- 3 Drone Sprayer Economics
- 4 United States Drone Spraying Law
- 5 How Drone Spraying Laws Heavily Influence the Economics
- 6 Drone Sprayer Statistics (# of Operators, Exemptions, Registrations, etc.)
- 7 Spraying Drones for Sale
- 8 Crop Dusting Drones
- 9 How to Make an Agricultural Drone Sprayer
- 10 Drone Sprayer Services
- 11 Tips on Starting a Drone Sprayer Operation (Read This Before You Buy)
- 12 Drone Sprayer Frequently Asked Questions
- 13 Conclusion
- 14 My Services
- 15 Comparison Table of My Services to HSE’s
Drone Sprayer Benefits
- You can remove the person from the area being treated. This is a MAJOR benefit. Yes, the crew has to be around the drone while it’s being loaded but that is so trivial compared to spraying some heavily vegetated area where everyone is definitely going to get covered tripping and falling on all sorts of stuff.
- One trip. Some operations can benefit from the small size of the drone which can be stored in the back of a truck. Instead of driving out to identify what is going on and then going back and picking up some more equipment (argo, ground rig, etc.) you can just spot spray those areas. Yes, a backpack sprayer can do that but how good is that backpack sprayer for swamp, water, rocky uneven areas, etc.? Plus, a drone sprayer can spray those areas faster than a backpack sprayer which could mean the backpack sprayer could cost you more in the long run (more injuries, more hours worked, etc.).
- Lowers Risk Exposure. Having problems with spraying troublesome areas such as under power lines, rocky inaccessible areas, near powerlines, near towers with guidewires, near highly noise sensitive home owners who complain constantly to the FSDO (which results in ramp checks), box canyons, etc. Send in the drone. If you lose the drone, no biggy. No one is on board. If you have a current Part 137 operation, you should see how you could REPLACE risk by operating a drone instead of a manned aircraft in certain environments. Think about it guys. You send out the flagmen sometimes. Couldn’t ya just have the flagman turn around and “weed wack” the dangerous areas with the drone?
- Able to get into areas manned aircraft cannot easily get into. Part 137 requires the operator to file a congested area plan if they are operating over a congested area. The problem is manned aircraft cannot operate like a drone. You have to fly the manned aircraft there while a drone can be driven there. This results in the manned aircraft operation having to go through the hassles of filing a congested area plan and getting it approved. I would argue that unmanned aircraft fly in between congested areas. Think about it. You could be treating golf courses, canals, ponds, lakes, etc. all in a suburban/urban environment but you are never over people or property. You drive up in your truck and launch the drone.
Drone Sprayer Examples:
I’m going to touch on the high points of each of these drone sprayer uses. Please keep in mind that each drone sprayer has its own set of unique problems, economics, laws, etc. My commentary is not an exhaustive discussion on the whole area.
Pollen Drone Sprayer
There is a problematic decline of bee population numbers around the United States which has been caused for various reasons. Dropcopter has stepped into this gap with a very innovative idea of using their drone sprayer to pollinate crops.
“Pollination by drone isn’t the only alternative to insect pollination, but it may just be the most efficient current solution. Alternatives include using large tractor-mounted liquid sprayers or leaf blowers driven on quad bikes. Both of these are problematic due to the lack of reach and, in the case of liquid sprayers, the time-sensitive nature of the pollen once it gets mixed with liquid. Dropcopter’s drones, meanwhile, can cover 40 acres per hour, and can double the pollination window by also flying at night. This is one advantage they even have over bees since bees don’t fly at nighttime, when flowers remain open.”
It also appears that their Dropcopter can maybe increase yields. Dropcopter’s website says, “Dropcopter completed its patent pending prototype, and conducted the first ever UAS pollination of orchards crops, boosting crop set by 10%.” A study was completed and here are some pictures of the apples.
Drones for Spraying Insecticides (Mosquito Control, etc.)
Because of their ability to communicate diseases, fighting mosquitoes is a big thing around the U.S. Mosquito abatement organizations are seeking to actively use drones to help fight mosquitoes. Recently, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced the Drone Integration Pilot Program. The DOT picked ten winners, one of which is the Lee County Mosquito Control District located in Ft. Myers Florida. “The proposal focuses on low-altitude aerial applications to control/surveille the mosquito population using a 1500-lb. UAS.” Lee County is not the only mosquito control district interested in using drones for spraying pesticides. Other control districts currently have drone sprayer programs underway.
If you are a government agency that fights mosquitoes or other pests, there is the potential for your operations to be done under a certain type of classification called a public aircraft operation which gives your operation more flexibility than non-government entities. See below for a discussion. If you are interested in helping your mosquito control district use drone sprayers, contact me.
Mosquitoes are not the only insects you might be interested in fighting. Drone Volt created a mount to spray insecticide on hornet nests way up in trees.
Crop Dusting Drones (Herbicide, Fertilizer, Fungicide, Viricides etc.)
Drone sprayers seem like a good choice to be crop dusting drones but there are MANY variables here that affect whether it is a good decision for your situation or not. Factors that influence whether this makes sense or not are:
- Type of crop,
- Value of the crop,
- Ground size of the crop,
- Droplet size requirements to be placed on the crop,
- How quickly you need to spray a particular chemical on a crop (is there a window of time?), and
- How much liquid you need to spray.
For large areas of land, manned aircraft and ground spraying rigs make more sense based upon cost per acre compared to crop dusting drones. Read my section below on the economics to understand this fully. For smaller pieces of land or land that is inaccessible to ground rigs or manned aircraft, it might make sense to use crop dusting drones.
Note for Viricides, in November 2020, the EPA published, “Unless the pesticide product label specifically includes disinfection directions for fogging, fumigation, wide-area or electrostatic spraying, or application via drones (i.e., unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)), EPA does not recommend using these methods to apply disinfectants. EPA has not evaluated the product’s safety and efficacy for methods not addressed on the label.”
Drone Tree Seed Planter
Drone Seed is looking to corner the market on precision forestry. Not only can it do a potentially dangerous job of planting trees on the slopes of steep inclines but it can also potentially do it faster than by workers on foot.
Wind Turbine De-Icing Drone Sprayer
The Verge did an article on the company Aerones which built a large drone sprayer with some serious lifting capacity to fly up and spray de-icing fluid on wind turbine blades. The Verge article explained:
“The craft has a tether line supplying water, which it sprays at up to 100 liters a minute (with optional de-icing coating), and another for power, meaning it can stay aloft indefinitely. Cleaning by drone costs around $1,000, compared to $5,000 and up for cleaning by climbers.
The process is good for general maintenance, but also helps increase power efficiency. If snow and ice build up on a turbine’s blades, it slows the rate at which they produce power and can even bring it to a complete halt. Aerones adds that using a drone for de-icing is both quicker and safer than sending humans up using a cherry picker”
Drone Sprayer Economics
There is far more hype to this area that is being driven by possibilities rather than economics.
Drones are mobile platforms to spray from. There are other mobile platforms such as:
- Manned aircraft (airplanes and helicopters)
- Ground spraying rigs (tractor pulled, truck mounted, etc.)
- Humans (Backpack sprayer)
Each of these platforms has pros and cons that need to be weighed against the benefits of the drone sprayer.
Manned Aircraft (Airplanes & Helicopters) vs. Drone Sprayers
Manned Aircraft: Most drone sprayers cannot carry a large payload compared to manned aircraft. Manned aircraft also are lower in cost per acre than drone sprayer operations. For crop spraying, drone sprayers won’t be used for large acres of land because the spraying rate per day is also way too small compared to manned aircraft which can spray thousands of gallons in one day. This is a major point people miss. There are narrow windows of time to spray crops due to all sorts of things such as weather, chemical being sprayed, growth cycle, etc. Simply put, drone sprayers cannot spray fast enough because their tanks are small.
Drone Sprayers: Drones have the ability to service clients who have smaller amounts of land or area inaccessible to manned aircraft.
Ground Spraying Rigs (Tractor Pulled, Truck Mounted, etc.)
Ground Spraying Rigs: They do not have to deal with the FAA and all those hassles. They can also hold much more spraying material than a drone.
Drone Sprayers: Drone sprayers can access areas that ground spraying rigs cannot, such as uneven, steep, or inaccessible terrain or sensitive environments where the ground vehicles would damage the area or crops. Drone sprayers are lower in cost to purchase and maintain.
Humans (Backpack Sprayer)
Backpack Sprayer: Super cheap to purchase ($90) compared to a drone sprayer. No FAA problems. But your workers could get covered in the chemical. Numb lips anyone?
Drone Sprayers: You can access areas with less danger to your employees. (Slip and fall anyone? Hello workers’ compensation claims.) Potentially more time efficient. Less exhausting than walking around with a hand pump sprayer. Depending on batteries and how quickly you can refill, this can be more time efficient than backpack sprayers.
Where Do Drone Sprayers Fit In?
When you go to the home improvement store to buy some paint, you’ll notice that there are small spray paint cans, low cost electric paint sprayers, and large metal heavy duty commercial sprayers. By analogy, drone sprayers fill a sweet spot that is similar to low cost electric paint sprayers.
You have to focus on the strengths of drone sprayers to see where they shine:
- Able to get into locations that manned aircraft, ground spraying tractors, or hand sprayers cannot access.
- Safer than hand spraying.
- Lower acquisition costs versus larger pieces of equipment (ground spraying tractors) or manned aircraft. Do you really need to buy that ground spraying rig?
- Easy and low cost to transport and deploy. (Ground spraying rigs you have to drive or tow there. Manned aircraft you have to fly to the location).
- Able to service smaller clients that would not have hired a manned aircraft.
Can You Give Me Some Drone Spraying Examples?
- High value crops that tend to cover smaller acres of land (vineyards, apple orchards, almond orchards, etc.).
- Spraying pollen on higher value crops to increase crop yields.
- Crops on terrain that is too inaccessible or inconvenient to get to with a ground sprayer yet is too small to justify hiring a manned aircraft spraying operation.
- Herbicide spraying on rocky embankments near a water reservoir where you don’t want to endanger your employees or you have a hard time getting to the rocky areas with the ground rig.
- Mosquito abatement in areas that ground vehicles (or boats) cannot easily get to and that don’t justify the use of manned aircraft.
- You’re a company that is running an in-house operation testing out aerial application of chemicals or on a particular type of plant.
- I heard a person one time say they wanted to spray 4,000 acres with a drone. I said you’ll never do that economically. Manned aircraft will be far far cheaper you’ll ever be. Do NOT think 4 farms of 1,000 acres each but 1,000 farms of 4 acres each. You focus on what businesses are on 1-10 acres. Nurseries, specialty crops, orchards, etc.
What About Costs? How Much Does a Spraying Drone Operation Cost?
Yes, those examples didn’t really take into account the total drone sprayer operational costs. Here are some rough numbers you can use to go off of:
- Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Related:
- FAA Registration ($5 per drone). Good for 3 years.
- FAA Remote Pilot Certificate Knowledge Exam ($150 per remote pilot). Aeronautical test knowledge is good for 24 months.
- Study Material for Remote Pilot Test (Free-$250) (I have a huge free study guide for the test located here).
- If you are spraying anything other than just pure water,
- You’ll need a Part 137 Agricultural Aircraft Operator Certificate ($0 per operator but will take time). Indefinite.
- Exemption ($0 per operator but will take time and legal knowledge.) Lasts 2 years.
- Need to spray at night? Part 107 night waiver. ($0) Lasts 4 years.
- Drone Sprayer Insurance. I can’t estimate this because there are many factors here. Read my article on drone insurance before you buy some.
- Crop Dusting Drone Sprayer & Equipment. ($5,000-40,000)
- Spraying Pesticide? You’ll need a state restricted use pesticide license. (Around $100 to $250). Things can cause this to fluctuate so you’ll have to check your state.)
If you need my help with exemptions, a Part 107 night waiver, going through the 137 agricultural aircraft operator certification, keep reading. I have a section down below.
Now before you start making business plans. You need to know that these drones are considered aircraft. Aircraft are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”). In addition to the FAA, other U.S. Federal laws may apply to your operation.
United States Drone Spraying Law
Federal Drone Spraying Law
Federal Aviation Regulations
Just at the get go, if you are a government agency, some of these regulations might NOT apply to you. This is completely beyond the scope of this article but I have talked about it more over here.
Most commercial drone operators follow Part 107. There are other legal methods of getting your aircraft airborne legally but this is the most time and cost efficient. Basically, Part 107 requires the drone sprayer to be registered, the pilot to have a remote pilot certificate, and for the operations to be done according to the restrictions listed in Part 107. Click here to read up on the complete summary of what Part 107 says.
Here are the two most important things you need to know about Part 107 in relation to spraying drones:
- Part 107 is only for drones that weigh on take-off less than 55 pounds and
- You cannot carry hazardous material on the drone.
Now these are not deal breakers but you’ll need exemptions from these restrictions. Exemptions do not cost anything to file with the FAA but they do take time and legal knowledge to make sure you have identified all the regulations you need to be exempted from. If you don’t have the time or knowledge, you can hire people, like me, to help you with this.
Also keep in mind that for 55 pound + exemptions, there are documents and data the FAA will want you to submit in support with the exemption. This data might NOT be supplied by the drone sprayer manufacturers, which means you need to create it or find someone who has. See tips below for more on this topic.
Part 137 – Agricultural Aircraft Operations.
Part 137 specifically defines the applicability of this Part of the Code of Federal Regulations. Agricultural aircraft operation means the operation of an aircraft for the purpose of:
- Dispensing any economic poison,
- Dispensing any other substance intended for plant nourishment, soil treatment, propagation of plant life, or pest control, or
- Engaging in dispensing activities directly affecting agriculture, horticulture, or forest preservation, but not including the dispensing of live insects.
Part 137.3 defines economic poison:
Economic poison means (1) any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any insects, rodents, nematodes, fungi, weeds, and other forms of plant or animal life or viruses, except viruses on or in living man or other animals, which the Secretary of Agriculture shall declare to be a pest, and (2) any substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant or desiccant.
Most spraying operations fall into the applicability of Part 137 and because of such, they’ll need exemptions from sections of this part. Why? Part 137 was created a long long time ago. The regulations designed for manned aircraft do not make sense with drone sprayers. Conveniently, if you are already getting an exemption from the prohibition in Part 107 to not carry hazardous materials (like economic poisons), you can just add the sections of Part 137 that you need exempting from all into one request for exemption document.
Here is a major point that people miss. In addition to the exemption to do agricultural aircraft operations, the operator will need to obtain an agricultural aircraft operator certificate. You can thankfully pursue both the exemption and certificate in parallel to speed things up but you’ll need the exemption approval before you get inspected by the FAA as the final step in getting your agricultural aircraft operator certificate.
Other Federal Regulations
Keep in mind the FAA isn’t the only federal agency you might have to deal with. There is also the Environmental Protection Agency and also the Occupational and Health Safety Administration which have regulations that apply. Discussing these regulations is way outside the scope of this article but I wanted to mention this.
State & Local Drone Spraying Laws
There are state and local laws that apply to aerial application spraying (manned and unmanned spraying). This is a very broad area but just know that states require you to obtain some type of restricted use pesticide license to spray any economic poisons and typically you need the certification in the category you are performing the work (aerial application).
Some states require you have your drone sprayer registered with the FAA and even the state. The state won’t issue any state registration until you also show some drone insurance on your drone sprayer. This means you won’t be able to do some type of hourly insurance set up but will have to obtain annual insurance and request a certificate of insurance to show to the state.
Local laws also might apply depending on what you are spraying, when you are spraying, and where you are spraying.
How Drone Spraying Laws Heavily Influence the Economics
A big mistake some make when getting into drone spraying is that the size of the aircraft ONLY affects the cost per acre. I cannot emphasize this enough. This is the most important point of this entire article.
A drone that weighs 55 pounds or more on take-off, will be required to fly under a different set of regulations and restrictions. Yes, the weight of the aircraft will determine what set of regulations you will fall within.These restrictions can be extremely burdensome in some environments and inconsequential in others.
The two big restrictions facing 55 pound and heavier aircraft are (1) the 500ft bubble and (2) the Blanket COA 5-3-2 airspace bubble.
The 500 Foot Bubble
Under 55 pound operations do not have the 500ft buffer zone but 55 pound and heavier operations do.
To operate a spraying drone 55 pounds and heavier, you’ll need an exemption from some of the regulations in Part 91. One of them is 91.119(c). The exemptions being given out which grant regulatory relief from 91.119(c) require under restriction “27. All flight operations must be conducted at least 500 feet from all persons who are not directly participating in the operation, and from vessels, vehicles, and structures[.]”
People really don’t fully appreciate how big of a buffer zone this is. Let this sink in.
In order to spray operating 55 pound+, the width of the field needs to be at least 500ft ON BOTH SIDES of the drone. Every road, person, house, car, etc. is a problem.
The only exceptions to the buffer zone are to the following three:
a. Over or near people directly participating in the operation of the UAS. No person may operate the UAS directly over a human being unless that human being is directly participating in the operation of the UAS, to include the PIC, VO, and other personnel who are directly participating in the safe operation of the UA.
b. Near nonparticipating persons. Except as provided in subsection (a) of this section, a UA may only be operated closer than 500 feet to a person when barriers or structures are present that sufficiently protect that person from the UA and/or debris or hazardous materials such as fuel or chemicals in the event of an accident. Under these conditions, the operator must ensure that the person remains under such protection for the duration of the operation. If a situation arises in which the person leaves such protection and is within 500 feet of the UA, flight operations must cease immediately in a manner that does not cause undue hazard to persons.
c. Near vessels, vehicles and structures. Prior to conducting operations, the operator must obtain permission from a person with the legal authority over any vessels, vehicles or structures that will be within 500 feet of the UA during operations. The PIC must make a safety assessment of the risk of operating closer to those objects and determine that it does not present an undue hazard.
So ya need to get permission. Now you’re knocking on doors like you’re a girl scout selling cookies. What if they are in the shower, out of town, in the barn, just don’t care, etc.? Bummer. You have to stay more than 500ft away. Yes, if you are doing the job for the person who owns the cow, barn, and house, you could just get that permission so that resolves that problem….but……what about their neighbors barn, house, or cow which may be near the fence? Knock knock……Who’s there?
You…knocking and not doing what you need to be doing.
Basically, you must stay away from non-participating people and property, unless protected.
In some circumstances, this is a deal breaker for 55 pound and heavier operations which means you have to do your operations under 55 pounds under Part 107 which does not have the 500ft buffer zone.
Some choose to solve this situation with an aircraft optimized for over 55 and another optimized for under 55. Another is just have one aircraft and fly it under 55 (with less payload) in the 500ft buffer areas and go 55+ for the fields. Both scenarios would need a under 55 exemption and a 55+ exemption.
So to help you make the decision of which aircraft to purchase, I created this calculator.
Spray Drone Calculator (To Figure Out If You Should Buy an Over or Under 55 Pound Drone Due to Your Surroundings)
The Blanket COA 5-3-2 Airspace Bubble.
The blanket certificate of authorization (COA) being given out with the exemptions for 55 pound and heavier drone spraying operations say the following:
Beyond the following distances from the airport reference point (ARP) of a public use airport, heliport, gliderport, or seaport listed in the Digital – Chart Supplement (d-CS), Alaska Supplement, or Pacific Chart Supplement of the U.S. Government Flight Information Publications:
(1) 5 nautical miles (NM) from an airport having an operational control tower; or
(2) 3 NM from an airport having a published instrument flight procedure, but not having an operational control tower; or (3) 2 NM from an airport not having a published instrument flight procedure or an operational control tower; or
(4) 2 NM from a heliport.
This is what it looks like on a sectional chart for the airspace around Austin, Texas.
You can obtain approvals to fly in SOME of those red areas. The blanket COA says, “For all UAS requests not covered by the conditions listed above, the exemption holder may apply for a new Air Traffic Organization (ATO) COA at https://caps.faa.gov/coaportal.” It just means another hoop you have to jump through if you need to fly there.
Also, drones cannot even operate in Bravo and Charlie airspace without having ADS-B out or without authorization. If you get a COA, you have to make it also a 91.225 COA and not just some general airspace COA. This is a point many will miss.
In heavily congested airspace environments, this is a deal breaker for 55 pound and heavier operations which means you have to do your operations under 55 pounds under Part 107 which does not have the 500ft buffer zone. This is the same area under Part 107 regulations. Those 3 red areas are where a COA is required under Part 107.
When it comes to getting COA approvals. Part 107 wins. The CAPs portal above for 55+ operations is a super pain to connect to and takes longer than LAANC which is the FAA’s new way of granting COAs electronically within seconds in certain locations.
Because of these reasons, not too many people operate 55+ legally. If you go to the FAA registration database and type in different make and models of spray drones capable for flying over 55 pounds, you’ll notice very few aircraft are registered under Part 47 which is the only way you can register 55 pound+ drones. The aircraft you see are those that can legally operate 55+ and heavier in the US. Explanations for low numbers could be (1) the registrant incorrectly registered under Part 48 which is ONLY for SMALL drones, (2) the registrant chose to operate their drone under 55 pounds according to Part 107 and use the easier Part 48 online registration process (even though they could physically operate heavier), or (3) they just chose to illegally operate without registration.
Nothing prohibits you from having two exemptions. :)
You can have one aircraft that can operate under either one depending on the needs of the environment.
Conceptually, you “mow the lawn” with the 55+ exemption with the 500ft buffer while you “weed wack” the edges under Part 107 without the 500ft buffer zone. There are some issues you will run into if you already have one of the exemptions and you are trying to add on another, you’ll want to schedule a phone call with me so we can go into all the issues with the endorsement, manuals, LOA, etc. There are issues with jumping back and forth between the two also.
Drone Sprayer Statistics (# of Operators, Exemptions, Registrations, etc.)
Drone Spray Operators:
- 8/9/2019 – 20 Part 137 operators using drones.
- 11/2019 – 25 Part 137 Agricultural Aircraft Certificate Operators using Drones
Exemptions (as of 11/2019):
- 53 Exemptions for Part 107 spraying operations (Under 55 pound operations).
- 24 Exemptions for Part 91 spraying operations. (55 pound + operations)
Registrations (as of 11/2019):
Part 47 registrations for unmanned aircraft is searchable by make and/or model. (If you fly 55 pound +, you must register via Part 47. The Part 48 database is not searchable unfortunately.). This is an important point because it tells you have many 55 pound+ aircraft are capable of legally operating in the US. Some people who purchase aircraft capable of flying 55 pound+ realize they would rather just operate under 55 pounds which means they are not as efficient.
Note: the customer registering could have put the names in incorrectly or the FAA entered them incorrectly so there could things registered incorrectly I missed. For example, there was an entry for the Yamaha REMAX when it’s correctly called RMAX.
- 15 Yamaha
- 5 RMAX
- 4 RMAX Type II
- 3 Fazer
- 3 FAZER R
- 2 Harris Aerial
- 1 H18
- 1 Stark HX8
- 2 Homeland Surveillance & Electronics. I searched “HSE” “Homeland” “HS&E” for the manufacturer.
- 1 AG MBA PRO
- 1 AG V8A+ PRO RTK
- 1 Pyka
- 1 Kiwi Technologies
- 0 Joyance
- 0 DJI with their T16
Spraying Drones for Sale
Right now, there are some companies that are manufacturing spraying drones. The drone sprayers listed below are ones I’m familiar with. I didn’t do an exhaustive search for all that is out there as China has been pumping more and more. There always seems to be some new Chinese drone company offering them for sale.
Very important point: if any of the manufacturers or resellers refer you to other companies for legal or consulting assistance, ask them if they are receiving referral fees from that person or companies. There are multiple companies that I know refer work to certain people based upon the kickbacks they receive. You want to find out if the recommendation was because the consultant or attorney was the best person for the job, not because they were giving kickbacks. As a Florida-barred attorney, I’m prohibited from providing referral fees to non-attorneys and have never done so.
You can look through them all below but you might be wondering……
What is the most popular spray drone?
I can say that by far most people purchase one of the DJI Agras models that operate below 55 pounds. If you are on a budget, you can purchase one of the older Agras models (MG-1 or MG-1S). The Agras MG-1P seems to be the most popular make/model/version. The MG-1P has the capability of swarming and is optimized for under 55 pounds which means it does not have the horrible 500 foot buffer zone restriction that the 55 pound and heavier spray drones are plagued with. Also, some people purchase the MG-1P because they know that DJI has the largest drone company and will be around while some smaller operations may have issues with staying in business, fixing issues, adding improvements, etc.
Some of these companies below also have foggers and spreaders that mount onto the aircraft.
- Agras MG-1.
- Agras T16 which is over 55 pounds.
- Harris Aerial
- HSE has multiple spraying drones.
- Skyhawk RC
- Joyance (They sell aircraft and spreaders)
- Kiwi Technologies
- Align Demeter E1
- Gaui GX9-EA
- AgrowDrone sUAS-eH and Agrodrone sUAS-eM
- Dreameagle X4-10
Keep in mind you don’t just buy the drone sprayer. You’ll be also thinking about purchasing a transport case, extra batteries, training, etc.
Crop Dusting Drones
Sprayer drones can be used for mosquito abatement, fire fighting, and multiple other things but there are certain drones that you can consider to be good crop dusting drones.
When considering purchasing a crop dusting drone, you need to figure out how much area you need to spray and who you might be competing with. Manned aircraft fixed wing and helicopters are pretty low cost per acre ($7-20) compared to drones so you need to figure out your situation. Many people totally miss this point and many selling the crop dusting drones totally miss this and it could cost you dearly. If you try to optimize your operations to compete with manned aircraft on volume, you are almost always going to lose except for a few situations. They have been doing crop dusting for decades. If you compete with them, you will almost always lose. Do not try and spray areas that are big enough for them to complete with you. You are operating in the area between hand sprayers/ground rigs and manned crop dusters.
Crop spraying drones basically fall into two categories: (1) fixed wing and (2) multi-rotor. Fixed wing will have the largest payload but will have limitations with take-off and landing. Multi-rotor is good for precise areas and small take-off areas but you’ll need more of them (more $$$).
The Pyka crop dusting drone is an example of carrying some serious payload. https://flypyka.com/#planes
For multi-rotors crop dusting drones, the most popular is the DJI Agras MG-1. If you want to cover a lot of area and spray a lot of volume with multi-rotors, you could obtain a swarm waiver. The DJI Agras MG-1P is designed for this (the older MG-1 does not allow for this). If swarming, do NOT go 55 pound + unless you really really have to because of the 500 foot buffer zone. It will totally kill your economics in many locations. Consider this, if you want 20 liters flying (like the HSE models), just get 2x DJI Agras MG-1P with 10 liters. You could also expand and do 5x 10 liters and get 50 liters in the sky with the Agras with no 500ft buffer zone.
You can also obtain a night waiver to fly at night during the peak spraying season. This way you can really get a lot of volume out in a short period of time with your spraying operation. There are only like a couple of these night spraying waivers nationwide. 99% of the night waivers don’t allow spraying.
Contact me if you want a night or swarm waiver for your spraying operations.
How to Make an Agricultural Drone Sprayer
So you are on a budget and want to make a drone sprayer? This can be done.
Some of you guys have a gas helicopter laying around or some multi-rotor. You can maybe figure out some solution.
Louisiana State University Ag Center put together an article on how to Build Your Own Sprayer Drone. The drone sprayer in that article was built for under $2,500 but keep in mind that the drone carries three-quarters of a gallon of liquid compared to 2.64 gallons with the DJI Agras MG-1. If you want to go budget, check out what the old basic DJI Agras MG-1 are with various drone sellers who are looking to unload them but keep in mind there may be issues with obtaining batteries. (Are there other alternatives to the old MG-1 batteries?)
Drone Sprayer Services
Many people are advertising they can perform drone spraying services but only so many actually have the regulatory approvals. To spray, the operator must have both (1) the granted exemption and (2) the operating certificate. There are like 100+ exemptions but there is something like 30-40 operating certificates nationwide. That’s it. Many don’t get all the way through the grueling operating certification. Don’t let some sprayer service fool you with showing you only the granted exemption. Here is a directory I obtained from the FAA (current as of 8/19/2019) of actual Part 137 operators. Yes, this is it for the entire United States at that time.
- Rantizo Inc.
- Drone Amplified Inc.
- K Drone Services LLC
- Dropcopter Inc.
- Agrow Soft LLC
- North State Engineering
- Cover Crop Innovations
- Aerial Influence LLC
- Maverick Drone Systems LLC
- Droneseed Co
- Three Rivers Mosquito and Vector Control
- Nexus Solutions USA
- Aeropro Videos LLC
- H&S Drones LLC
- Leading Edge Associates, Inc.
- Coastal Spray Company
- Hill Country Pest Control, Inc.
- Hyve Remote Aerial Solutions LLC
- Philip E. Shaner
- Placer Mosquito and Vector Control District
If you want to figure out who in your area even has a granted exemption, go to www.regulations.gov and search. That tells you only who has a granted exemption. To figure out who has an operating certificate, the only way to do that is to call your local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) and have them search on WebOpps for those operating certificates that have exemptions in that FSDO.
Another really interesting point is that many people don’t have their drones properly registered. If you want to fly 55 pounds and heavier, the drone must be registered under Part 47. If you look at the statistics I had in the section above, you’ll see many of the drone sprayer services do NOT have any drones that can spray over 55 pounds. Search for yourself at the registration database. https://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/ The Part 48 database (for under 55 pound flyers) is not publicly searchable but I’m working on getting that data out. I think one reason for the Part 47 database having so few registered aircraft is because of the nature of how these drones are sold. There seems to be an overall effort of selling drones than making sure the customers are operating lawfully. I suspect you won’t find many in either the Part 47 or Part 48 databases anyways since there are WAY more sprayer drones being sold than those going through the exemption process. Why register and tell the feds where you are if you are planning on operating illegally? If you think they are operating illegally, you can report them here. https://hotline.faa.gov/
Tips on Starting a Drone Sprayer Operation (Read This Before You Buy)
Work With an Attorney
A. Attorney Client Relationship Protects Sensitive Conversations. The attorney-client privilege protects conversations between the client and the attorney. This allows for open conversations regarding the legality of the operations. “Was I supposed to do……..” or “We just received a letter of investigation” are supposed to be brought up in the open and honest attorney-client discussion. There are alot of regulations that apply. Do you really want to rely on a non-attorney to give you legal advice? You’re the one getting the fines, not the consultant.
Please note that it is ATTORNEY client relationship and not consultant client relationship. The FAA, federal and state law enforcement, plaintiff’s attorneys, etc. can subpoena your consultant to testify against you. They can’t do that with an attorney except for really rare situations. The consultant is stuck between a rock and a hard place. They either tell the truth and goof you up, lie and risk jail, or refuse to answer and go to jail. The answer is simple – you’ll get goofed over every time.
B. An attorney can actually provide legal advice – lawfully. You’re going to need a lot of answers regarding the laws. Almost all the states I know of require that people who provide legal advice be licensed attorneys in that state. Only attorneys can provide legal advice. If anyone claims they are an attorney, check the state bar directory in which they live to see if they are a current member in good standing. For example, if you go to the Florida Bar’s member search page, you can search for me and see that I’m eligible to practice law and in good standing with the Florida Bar.
I know of a person running around in the industry right now that calls themselves an attorney but that person is actually a disbarred attorney who was disbarred because of dishonest conduct towards the client. It will look pretty bad to your boss if you hire a so-called attorney who turns out to not be a LICENSED attorney.
C. They have a duty to you. – This is an important one. Yes, we all understand the idea of giving secrets away to a competitor is a big no-no. But consider this….as a Florida Bar attorney, I’m actually prohibited from paying out to any non-attorney or drone manufacturers any referral fees. This means that if I recommend something or someone, I’m recommending it because it is good, not because I’m getting paid for it. Furthermore, this means that people who refer to me are sending you to me because I’m the best person to help, NOT that I’m giving them a kickback. If you were sent to a consultant, ask the consultant if they provided kickbacks (referral fees) to anyone to have them send you to the consultant.
D. Protection. Most attorneys have legal malpractice insurance which is there to protect you in case there is a mistake. I don’t know of any consultants that have legal malpractice insurance to protect you if they advise you incorrectly on the aviation regulations or the other laws that apply to this area. Furthermore, attorneys go through background checks to get barred. Consultants don’t have to get checked out.
Are You Planning on Flying 55 Pounds or Heavier in the United States?
A. Limited Payload. To fly under Part 107, your drone sprayer needs to weigh under 55 pounds on take-off. It could have the capability to fly heavier, but you need to keep it under. This is an important point because you could purchase a drone sprayer capable of flying over 55 pounds but you’ll be forced to limit the amount of liquid in your tanks for the drone and liquid together to be under 55 pounds at take-off.
B. More Costs & Different Rules. The amount of effort to fly a drone sprayer weighing 55 pounds or heavier is much more considerable than just flying under Part 107 without an exemption. Keep in mind you cannot just get a remote pilot certificate and fly a 55+ drone sprayer. The pilot will need the more costly sport pilot certificate and will be operating under a completely different set of regulations than Part 107. This means your up front costs WILL be higher for flying a 55+ drone than for an under 55 drone. This also means that if you want to scale out the drone spraying operation, you’ll need to pay for training to get the employee a sport pilot certificate or recruit people that already have this license or higher. It might make sense for your operation to have multiple under 55 pound drone sprayers and maybe one or more 55+ drone sprayers for larger jobs.
C. Lack of Reliability Data. This is actually the worst one. For a 55+ exemption, the FAA will ask for information on the drone sprayer, such as how many total hours have been flown on it to show engineering reliability. This is different than manuals. Is there any supporting data that shows this type of air frame is safe? This means you’ll most likely have to obtain the drone sprayer data yourself or find someone who already has. Maybe in the future the FAA will approve other 55+ exemptions based upon someone doing the previous leg work on the same make and model of drone sprayer but I have yet to see that.
D. Registration Planning. The easy online method of registering the drone sprayer under Part 48 is for only drone sprayers that will be operated under 55 pounds. This means you’ll have to go through the headache of de-registering under Part 48 and re-registering under Part 47 which is a pain in and of itself. Proper planning would say if you plan on going 55+ with your drone sprayer, just register under Part 47 which is good for both under 55 and 55+ operations.
Drone Sprayer Frequently Asked Questions
What are the major benefits of drone sprayers?
People do not have to be around the sprayer which is a big benefit compared to backpack sprayers. You can also get drone sprayers into hard to reach areas like power lines, swamps, protected natural areas, urban congested areas, etc.
What can drones spray?
Pollen, fire retardant, water, herbicide, pesticide, fertilizer, de-icing fluid, etc.
Can drones carry water?
Yes, they can spray water, fire retardant, pesticide, herbicide, and many other liquids. They can also spread granules such as fertilizer and pesticides.
Are there laws for spraying drones?
Yes, there are federal and state laws. Aircraft safety is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which has two different sets of regulations for spray drones depending on the weight of the aircraft. There are also federal and state pesticide application laws that apply to the dispensing of herbicides and pesticides.
What is the best drone sprayer?
Some drones are more cost efficient the larger they are but due to their heavier weight, the extra regulatory burdens for larger drones sometimes completely make the cost efficiency not worth it. Also, some drones are set up in a way that they could not comply with the pesticide labels and would be illegal to use. Its important to do your regulatory homework before purchasing a drone.
Drone sprayers provide great opportunities for certain types of operations but not all situations. To help you achieve your drone sprayer goals quickly and legally, it is best to work with someone who has familiarity with the area.
If you are planning on navigating this difficult area, contact me. I’m a commercial pilot, current FAA certificated flight instructor, aviation attorney, and former professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. I am currently assisting clients in these matters and HAVE successfully obtained exemption approvals for clients to do drone spraying. I’m also familiar with the non-aviation related legal issues that are extremely important for drone sprayer operations.
A petition for exemption needs to be filed. In parallel to this process, you go through the agricultural aircraft operating certification at the local flight standards district office level. I’ll give you instructions on how to do this. Basically, you file an application to them and send them the manuals we filed in support of the petition for exemption. Once the exemption is granted, you schedule with the FAA an in-person inspection where they verify your knowledge and skill of flying the aircraft. If you pass, you then obtain an operating certificate.
In order for the spraying operations to be in compliance with Federal Aviation Regulations (other laws may apply as well), the pilot needs a remote pilot certificate, the drone must be registered, you need the exemption, AND the agricultural aircraft operating certificate has been issued.
Turn around times on an exemption from the FAA is about 60-90 days from filing to approval, unless there is a government shutdown. Turn around time on the agricultural aircraft operator certificate can be 3-9 months depending on many factors.
The deliverables are determined by what you select.
|Cost||Exemption||Manuals||Agricultural Aircraft Operating Certificate||Answering Whatever Drone Law Questions You Have|
|Level 1||1,800||Filed by me.||I file stock manuals I created. No customization.||· Step-by-step guide.
· Study material.
· You file the paperwork and resolve any issues encountered with the FAA.
· You study on your own and find the answers on your own beyond what I don’t answer in the 30 minutes.
|Level 2||3,000||Filed by me.||Work with you to customize manuals to your needs. I then file.||· Answering questions regarding FAA created certification problems
· Emailing or calling FAA inspectors to resolve problems.
· Step-by-step guide.
· study material.
|120 Minutes (Useful when preparing for your inspection)|
From me, I’ll file the exemption. If Level 2 is selected, I’ll assist you in creating the operations and training manual. I’ll need you to decide on the finished training and operations manual.
From you, I need the contract signed AND payment before I start working. During the process, you’ll need to supply me the aircraft manual (what the manufacturer gave you). If Level 2 is selected, I’ll assist you in creating the operations and training manual. I’ll need you to decide on the finished training and operations manual.
I have helped 19 clients obtain an exemption and 9 agricultural aircraft operating certificates. I have had 0 rejections of my 137 exemption petitions.
Drone Sprayer Exemption FAQs:
- Can I add aircraft later? Yes, the best way to do it is to have one aircraft on the exemption which is the same you plan on flying during the inspection. The exemption will say you just need to have any future aircraft listed on your letter of authorization (it’s some pieces of paper that comes with your operating certificate and is not to be confused with a certificate of authorization for airspace). You get your local FAA aviation safety inspector to list any additional aircraft on the LOA. 1 exemption and 1 operating certificate with a LOA that can list multiple aircraft.
- How does it work with aircraft over 55 pounds? Basically, 55+ pound aircraft operate under a different set of regulations (which means we need those specifically exempted in the exemption). The easiest way to do things is just have 2 exemptions: 1 for under 55 and 1 for 55+. Why? because the under 55 exemption does not have any buffer zone issues regarding how far you need to stay away from people or airports while the 55+ exemption DOES which can get problematic when you are near people and airports.
- My aircraft CAN fly over 55 pounds. Does that mean I cannot get an under 55 exemption? No, you can have an aircraft capable of flying 55+ but you just limit the payload to keep it under 55 to fly under the exemption without any buffer zone or airspace issues. You can have one aircraft and two different exemptions. You would “mow the lawn” with the 55+ exemption and “weed wack” with the under 55 when you are near people, houses, cars, etc.
- Can I add waivers later on or do I need to get them now? You can add on the night and/or swarm waivers after you obtain the operating certificate and exemption. This is actually better as it presents less headaches during the initial process. I’ve done it before.
If you are planning on flying aircraft 55 pounds or heavier:
The under 55 pound exemption process is somewhat well defined but 55+ exemptions are not.
The costs for 55+ exemption are proportional to the amount of work I have to do. I’m not presently working on any of those but plan to offer this service in the near future. If the manufacturer can supply a lot of the data, the cost is lower.
If you can choose an aircraft that has been previously through the 55+ exemption process, we can maybe leverage the previous leg work done and skip the aircraft analysis because the aircraft is the same as the one previously approved. The only ones I know of are the Precision Vision 30, Yamaha RMAX, HSE M6A Pro, and HSE M8A Pro.
Another problem is when the aircraft is 55+ pounds, it is hard to get the flight data legally since you don’t have the approval to fly. There are two solutions: obtain an experimental certificate and test fly it to obtain the hours or fly the aircraft inside.
If the aircraft has not been previously approved, here is a list of what needs to go into a 55+ exemption (you’ll notice you can start logging some of the hours under 55 lb. flying):
- A detailed description of the aircraft design and configuration for the UAS, focusing on the UAS features and flight characteristics to include, but not limited to:
o Three-view drawings of aircraft and support equipment to include wingspan, height, length and/or other geometric dimensions
o Description of the aircraft and support and equipment (ground station) limitations
Maximum take-off weight
Airspeed • Cruise • Maximum • Stall (if applicable)
Maximum endurance of the aircraft
o Description of major subsystems
Command and control (please include spectrum frequencies utilized)
- Lost link strategies (i.e. communication, control, and data)
- FCC Permit information (if applicable)
Propulsion system type
- A detailed description of flight, lab, and software testing for the UAS, and, if applicable, the various flight conditions including:
o Density altitudes
o Wind/gust conditions
- A detailed description of operational history, proposed operations, and proposed operational areas for the UAS, focusing on the intended mission and nature of the operating area to include, but not limited to:
o Total flight hours with the aircraft
o Flight hours by type of mission and operating area
Class of Airspace
Daytime or nighttime operations
Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC)
Operations over private property or restricted areas
Operations in rural or urban areas
Proximity to people (not participating in the mission)
o Detailed incident/mishap data
Root cause analysis
Design and/or operational changes implemented
- A detailed description of pilot-in-command (PIC), visual observer (VO, if applicable), and other crew member roles and responsibilities as well as qualifications focusing on training and experience to include, but not limited to:
o Pilot certification
o Medical certification
o Amount of training and experience
- A detailed description of maintenance and operational procedures for the UAS, focusing on maintaining the UAS for safe flight over its operating life to include, but not limited to:
o Operational manuals
o Emergency procedures
o Maintenance manuals
o Pre-flight checklist
o Post-flight checklist
o Quick reference aircraft emergency procedures checklist (for use by the PIC and VO during flight)
- A detailed description of a risk assessment for the UAS, focusing on potential hazards to include, but not limited to:
o Initial risk level
o Residual risk level
Comparison Table of My Services to HSE’s
Here is an apples-to-apples comparison of Rupprecht Law to HSE’s assistance services.
|Legal Advice||I’m an attorney that is licensed to provide legal advice. Can provide legal advice regarding FAA, liability, the law, etc.||Cannot provide. It’s illegal for them to do. They might try to outsource to UASolutions Group. If you examine more closely, the bio for Kelly at UASolutions Group says, “was an Attorney at Law” which means they cannot currently provide YOU legal advice.|
|Aviation Experience||FAA Certificated Flight Instructor and Commercial Pilot for 10+ years.||?|
|Fiduciary Duty to You?||Yes. The Florida Bar Rules of Professional Conduct regulate my actions towards you.||No|
|Manuals||Provides manual templates and works with you to develop manuals to your company.||Provides manuals.|
|Assisting with Agricultural Aircraft Operating Certificate||Yes.||? I don’t know how much they assist with.|
|Costs||1,800 or 3000 (depending on which package).||2350 ?|
|Background Checks||Yes, from TSA and Florida Bar.||?|
|What happens if they are unethical?||You can report me to the Florida Bar and they can investigate me. I could lose my bar license if I violate a rule of professional conduct. I have “skin in the game.”||?|
|Google Review Ratings as of 3/15/2021||56 Reviews (5.0 Stars) and no I did not pay for those reviews or hire some company with fake accounts to pump up those numbers.||8 Reviews (5 Stars)|