Drone Sprayers: Uses, Laws, & Money Saving Tips (2022)

By | November 18, 2022

Interested in drone sprayers? This article is written for three groups of people: (1) finding and hiring a drone spraying operator, (2) purchasing and operating drone sprayers themselves privately or commercially, and (3) manufacturers or resellers supporting (1) and (2).

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).

In this article, I’ll try to bring out the major points based on my years of experience.  As of 11/16/2022, I’ve helped obtain for clients 84+ exemptions for agricultural aircraft operations (0 denials) and 32 clients obtain commercial agricultural aircraft operating certificates. I’ve also helped obtain 5 swarming waivers for spraying. I’m a commercial pilot, current FAA certificated flight instructor, practicing 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 swarm waiver, or going through the 137 agricultural aircraft operator certification, see below and please contact me for pricing.


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 while 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 the 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 homeowners 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 of the whole area.

Pollen Drone Sprayer

There is a problematic decline in 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.

As a Digital Trends article put it,

“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 on cost per acre compared to crop dusting drones. Read my section below on 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 workers on foot.

Corona Virus Disinfecting

The FAA has stated, “The FAA considers chemicals used as disinfectants for viruses to fall in the category of economic poisons as defined in part 137.3.”

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 in 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, chemicals 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 the 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 than 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. That being said, due to the aging manned aircraft population, there are areas of the United States that cannot obtain manned aircraft spraying services. In those areas, drone spraying with the largest drone might be the ONLY aerial option period and therefore, the most economical aerial method.

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:

Duration

Under 55 Pounds

55 Pounds+

Operating Certificate Indefinite if  One Airworthy Aircraft On It* Free to Obtain Free to Obtain
Exemption 24  Months Free to File and Obtain Free to File and Obtain
Registration 36  Months $5 per Aircraft $5 per Aircraft
Pilot Certificate Indefinite* Current Part 61 Pilots = Free

Everyone Else= $150 for remote pilot knowledge exam. (I have a huge free study guide for the test located here).

Pilot’s Aeronautical Currency 24 Months Free (Part 61 pilots use BFR and Part 107 pilots can do free online training)

 

  • For a Part 107 waiver for swarming ($0 but takes time and knowledge), it lasts 1-4 years. I’ve done 4 of these so far. Contact me for pricing.
  • 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 waiver (like maybe a swarm waiver to fly more than one drone at a time), or 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.

Part 107

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:

  1. Part 107 is only for drones that weigh on take-off less than 55 pounds and
  2. You cannot carry hazardous materials 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:

  1. Dispensing any economic poison,
  2. Dispensing any other substance intended for plant nourishment, soil treatment, propagation of plant life, or pest control, or
  3. 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.


Agricultural Aircraft Operating Certification Process

I’ve done 32+ of these things from scratch.  Here is what is involved.

  1. File one or more petitions for exemption.
  2. File paperwork with your local FAA office (FSDO) to start the agricultural aircraft operating certification.
  3. File operating manuals and documents to FSDO
  4. FSDO accepts manuals and operating documents.
  5. The exemption is approved.
  6. ONLY AFTER EXEMPTION IS GRANTED, local FSDO conducts an in person inspection where you demonstrate your knowledge and skill.
  7. Obtain a certificate and then go and operate.

Typically, most applicants get bogged down around step 4 worse than a minivan gone mudding. I’ve had all sorts of horrible interactions with the FSDO during this step. FSDO inspectors making junk up, intimidating my client (yes, I had one inspector call up my client and intimidate him AFTER I emailed the inspector pushing back on his illegal request).  They hate having attorneys involved because they hate accountability. One FSDO told my client to intentionally not have me CCed on the emails.  These are all reasons why you SHOULD have an attorney involved. :)

I have had multiple FSDOs tell me to take out of the manuals the warning that the client should not report to the FAA until they have spoken with their attorney. I love pushing back and just tell the FAA inspectors to look at the 6th Amendment of the US Consitution giving us a right to counsel.  The FSDOs are used to beating up people who don’t know much about the law so they can pull shenanigans. I’m an FAA-certificated flight instructor and practicing attorney who has been involved in litigation against the FAA. I’m not afraid of causing havoc. Some of these inspectors did not anticipate I wasn’t afraid to email all their bosses up and down the food chain and cause havoc.

Step 4 also has all sorts of fights regarding what the regulations require, etc.

The FSDOs also sometimes fight with you over what is supposed to be in the manuals or not. As an important point here, I only assist clients with Step 4 if I filed their paperwork. If you DIY or hire some consultant for the manuals, I won’t help. Some of these times, clients got themselves into trouble, or the consultant botched things up with paperwork, manuals, etc. I end up inheriting a client with all sorts of legal issues that exceed the fixed-rate pricing I normally do. These situations can turn into giant messes so as a policy matter I don’t clean up messes.  Additionally, some of the proprietary manuals created by consultants are trade secrets. Unless you have approval from the consultant for me to look at their documents, I’m not touching their documents and risk getting sued.

My manuals have been vigorously scrutinized over and over again by numerous FAA inspectors in numerous FSDOs. The manuals have been polished heavily so are to prevent these unnecessary fights over what “should” be in the manuals; thus, setting up the client for quick certification.

If you want to hire me to assist you through this minefield, please contact me. :)


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.

Here is a helpful chart I created showing the major comparisons.

Chart of Comparison for Under 55 Operations Versus 55 Pounds and Heavier

Under 55 Pounds 55 Pounds+
Operates Under Parts 107 & 137 and Exemption Parts 43,61, 91, and 137, etc. and Exemption
Airspace Class G airports are not a problem. We have LAANC for B, C, D, and E airports. Class G airports are a problem.

Blanket COA that comes with 5-3-2-2 restrictions.

Operates Under Parts 107 & 137 and Exemption Parts 43,61, 91, and 137, etc. and Exemption
Registration Parts 47 or 48 Only Part 47.

No Part 48 Drone Zone Registration.

Buffer Zone “[N]o undue hazard … in the event of a loss of control of the aircraft for any reason.” 107.19 500 ft or 100ft buffer zones listed in exemption.
Pilot Certificate Remote Pilot Certificate Exemption to Use Remote Pilot Certificate
Exemption Needed from 107.36 and multiple regulations in Part 137. Needed from multiple regulations in 91 and 137.

The 500 Foot Bubble

Under 55-pound operations do not have the 500ft buffer zone (they have 107.19(c)) 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, unless when operating[.]”

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 four:

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. Closer than 500 feet from vessels, vehicles and structures. The UA may be operated closer than 500 feet, but not less than 100 feet, from vessels, vehicles, and structures under the following conditions:
(1) The UAS is equipped with an active geo-fence boundary, set no closer than 100 feet from applicable waterways, roadways, or structures;
(2) The PIC must have a minimum of 7 hours experience operating the specific make and model UAS authorized under this exemption, at least 3 hours of which must be acquired within the preceding 12 calendar months;
(3) The PIC must have a minimum of 25 hours experience as a PIC in dispensing agricultural materials or chemicals from a UA;
(4) The UA may not be operated at a groundspeed exceeding 15 miles per hour;
(5) The UA altitude may not exceed 20 feet AGL; and
(6) The PIC must make a safety assessment of the risk of operating closer than 500 feet from those objects and determine that it does not present an undue hazard.

d. Closer than 100 feet from vessels, vehicles and structures. The UA may operate closer than 100 feet from vessels, vehicles, and structures in accordance with the conditions listed in 27.c. (2) through (6) and the following additional conditions:
(1) The UAS is equipped with an active geo-fence boundary, set to avoid the applicable waterways, roadways, or structures; and
(2) The operator must obtain permission from a person with the legal authority over any vessels, vehicles or structures prior to conducting operations closer than 100 feet from those objects.

So to fly within 100 feet, 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 100ft 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, fence, or mailbox?  Knock knock……Who’s there?

You…knocking and not doing what you need to be doing.

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 restrictions.

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.

Think of it this way….you would “weed wack” the edges with the under 55 drone (which it’s exemption doesn’t have a 500ft buffer zone) and “mow the lawn” with the 55+ drone that has the 500ft buffer zones.

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.

107-airspace-austin

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.

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.

A Solution!

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.


Comparison of Exemptions (Under 55 vs 55 Pounds and Heavier)

Under 55 Pounds 55 Pounds+
Aircraft Aircraft Agnostic MUST be listed in Exemption.
Basic exemption with previously approved safety restrictions 60-120 calendar days 60-250 calendar days
Never before approved safety restrictions 1 – 1.5 years
Aircraft previously approved under 49 USC 44807 such as DJI  Agras  T16, T20, and T30 Not  Applicable 60-250 calendar days
Aircraft NOT previously approved under 49 USC 44807 such as DJI  Agras T40 Not Applicable 1-1.5 years

You cannot go for a final inspection until your exemption is granted.  This is SUPER IMPORTANT.  Many will just sell you a 55+ aircraft but leave this major point out. You might be sitting for a while.


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
  • 6/3/2022-59. Based on FAA provided data, you’ll see some interesting stats. In the interest of truth and transparency, the FAA database providing me that information appears to not be complete. Some of my clients did not show up on the list and I KNOW they obtained a certificate. FAA is looking into why the database is incomplete. If some of mine are missing, maybe others are missing. Take it for what it is worth but it is the best data was have. You’ll see 18 out of the 59 I had a hand in starting (30.5%).
  • Part-137-operators-Rupprecht-helped-start-1
  • For 6/3/2022, here is the graph of the certificated Part 137 operators broken down by FSDO.

Drone-spraying-operators

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 be things registered incorrectly I missed. For example, there was an entry for the Yamaha REMAX when it was 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

Drone Spraying Facebook Group

There is at least one good Facebook group you can join. Drones for Spraying, Seeding, Mosquito Control, Crop Dusting(U.S. Focused)  I suggest going in there and asking questions about aircraft, equipment, vendors, etc. so as to get unbiased opinions.


Spraying Drones for Sale

Right now, there are some companies that are manufacturing spraying drones. The drone sprayers listed below are the 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.

IMPORTANT: Before you buy one of these drone sprayers, please read this article multiple times. 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. Some sellers keep their customers in the dark on certain issues. Talk to the past customers of the drone sellers. You can also hire me for a brief consultation to help you navigate purchasing a drone.

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.  I literally had one reseller tell me that they wouldn’t refer any work to me because they would lose a lot of money in kickbacks they receive from other consultants for referring work to them. If you hired a consultant or reseller for legal services when they were not licensed to provide that service, contact the state bar for their location and they may be able to help you with a refund. Legal services are regulated and non-attorneys cannot provide these services.

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. 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 T10 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 T10 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.

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.


Things to Consider Before Purchasing a Spray Drone

Before you put down a bunch of money to purchase a drone, PLEASE consider these important points.

Do you need to own the drone right now? You can petition for exemption without owning the aircraft. This is important and is important when you are a lean start-up. An exemption can be granted without you owning the aircraft. Many people foolishly just purchase the drone assuming we can get the operation up and running quickly and cheaply. That’s not the case. Some drones are really horrible. One manufacturer had horrible manuals and I just refused to even work with them. The customer had giant paperweights. One thing I have suggested to many is purchasing the drone AFTER the exemption is granted unless I’m confident I can get the exemption for you. To start the operating certification, you will need to have an aircraft registered so at that point you will need it.

Consider the company. DJI is the big gorilla in the room but it has all sorts of problems. Read this Washington Post article. Using a DJI product could be a deal breaker for certain clients who are either legally precluded from contracting with a contractor using a DJI product or the customer chooses to do it for PR or “what will my boss think?” reasons. You need to know if your end customers care about this or not.

Battery Intercompatibility. Some of the drone sprayer batteries can be used in different platforms. This is really important as batteries can get very expensive and you want to fully utilize your batteries. If you are buying an under 55 pound drone and a 55+ drone, you don’t want it so you have a bunch of batteries sitting around not being utilized for one of them. You want, for the least amount of capital expenditure, the greatest amount of batteries. A lack of intercompatibility means greater overall capital costs.

Ask around how others like the company. There is one company I will never deal with. They treated me and my customer horribly. That customer literally promised to never purchase anything from that company again. Just ask around and you can gather some real good intel on some of the manufacturers and resellers. There is a Facebook group here. https://www.facebook.com/groups/123803228100698

Remote Identification. The remote identification laws for operators require the operator to have a drone capable of broadcasting remote ID.  The issue here is some of the drone manufacturers may have some difficulty in creating a drone capable of doing this or finding a broadcast module to retrofit their aircraft.  This is a BIG problem for operators.  One concern is that the smaller sellers may not be able to do this timely or cost-effectively. They may choose to not support older models. DJI is the biggest manufacturer so it is possible they have the manpower and finances to have a lot of their aircraft capable of being compliant. They may choose to use this opportunity of regulatory obsolescence to force everyone to buy some brand new latest and great spray drone model by not supporting the retrofitting of older models.


Tips for Saving Money

  • Shop around. Some of the people selling drones are heavily marking up in costs. It is not uncommon to save thousands by shopping around. If a person recommended you to purchase from a certain dealer, ask them why. A lot of sellers and some consultants pay referral fees so you as a customer end up paying higher prices (as referral fees). If you are wondering about me, as an attorney, I can’t receive referral fees.
  • Facebook marketplace and Facebook groups.  There are people unloading old drones. You could obtain one cheaply.
  • Only purchase one drone. You only need one drone to get through the operating certification process. Do NOT purchase anymore until you get operating. Prices come down over time.  By the time you get your certification done, it could be 6-12 months from now. That’s some savings!
  • Consider leasing a drone instead of purchasing one. Some people have extra drones around. Lease one.
  • You can obtain exemptions and waivers without owning a drone. For example, for a swarming spray waiver, just have one drone to do the certification and obtain the waiver for swarming of up to 5 drones. Whenever you get a big job, purchase the 4 extra drones, do a demo for the FAA, and then go spraying.
  • Obtain a waiver (beyond the line of sight or swarming) and go try to land contracts with potential customers. Once entered into, purchase the drone or obtain financing for it.

Where Can I Purchase a Spray Drone?

PLEASE shop around. Some of the drone sellers heavily mark up the prices. One reason for the markup is that the person who referred you to the company or seller is taking a referral fee. Just go direct to a seller and you literally could save thousands.

Some manufacturers sell directly while others sell through resellers. Here is a list of some of the resellers.

XAG Aircraft

DJI


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 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 compete 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 to operate multiple drones at once. You could also just purchase a drone that carries more payload (like the 20 liter DJI Agras T20).  Remember the 55+ pound operations have the 500ft buffer zone, but you might be fine with those extra restrictions.  But consider this also, if you want 20 liters flying (like the DJI T20), 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 MG-1P with no 500ft buffer zone.  You could also just get a 55+ exemption for a T20 and then have 2 pilots with 2 VOs flying both at the same time (40 liters).  You could also hire me to get a swarming 55+ exemption and now have 3 T20s flying (60 liters).

Play around with all the scenarios in your head and with the typical environment of your potential customer.

107 allows you to spray at night. You’ll need a swarm waiver if you want to fly more than 1 drone at a time. This way you can really get a lot of volume out in a short period of time with your spraying operation.

Contact me if you want a swarm waiver for your spraying operations or 55+ exemptions, or whatever else!


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 a 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?)


5 Reasons Why You Should Only Hire a Certificated Drone Spraying Operator

1. Possible Prison Time

49 USC 46306(b) says,

“[A] person shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 3 years, or both, if the person— . . . (8)knowingly and willfully employs for service or uses in any capacity as an airman an individual who does not have an airman’s certificate authorizing the individual to serve in that capacity[.]”

Certificated Agricultural Aircraft Operators have to go through an in-depth and lengthy process with the FAA to get certificated.  They won’t risk their operating certificate by employing an uncertificated pilot.

2. Possible Liability for Damage Done to Others

Over in the drone spraying Facebook Group George, a manned agricultural spraying pilot reported this:

“So here’s a first for me. We went to spray a customers pea field with the helicopter and when we got there noticed that about 10 acres of it was dead in an odd pattern. I asked what was up and his answer was a drone working on the adjacent experiment station had drifted herbicide onto the field a few weeks before and that he was dealing with the operator to get it paid for. Seed peas, maybe $3,000 an acre, $30,000 total. Then says it seemed weird that the guy was really freaked out about him calling the state to turn it in and asks me what should the guy have to do the job, and does it seem weird to me? I ma[de] a few calls and end up calling the operator yesterday. Turns out he doesn’t have [a drone spraying] exemption, so of course no Part 137 operating certificate, and I believe lacks a medical certificate while operating a T30 over 55#’s, and may not have chemical drift liability insurance. I told him he’d best get his checkbook out and then cease operations until his paperwork is in order. The grower is being reasonable to not call the state, but he’s [very angry].”

Drone Spray Drift

Drone Spray Drift

If I were the attorney for the farmer of the seed peas, not only would I go after the illegal sprayer, I would go after the owner of the land that brought the illegal sprayer guy in under the idea of negligent hiring.

Imagine if the spray drifted over into an ORGANIC farm. The ground is now messed up. Game over. Now you are paying for the land or buying so many years worth of future crops. YIKES!

The Part 137 operating certification process is designed to verify the knowledge of the applicants so this does NOT happen. The operator has to demonstrate knowledge and skill to an FAA inspector with an in-person demo. The FAA Advisory Circular 137-1B says for the in-person skills test,

Before beginning the skill test, the inspector will inform the pilot/applicant of expectations and performance requirements, and factors that could lead to disqualification. The pilot/applicant are evaluated on piloting skill and operational judgment in the following skill testing task areas: . . . 6. Swath runs. • Consistent altitude (plus or minus 5 feet). • Four or more passes demonstrated. . . . • Start and stop the spray application within the target area and prevent drift onto adjacent fields.” (Emphasis mine).

Why would you hire an illegal when you can hire a certificated spray operator whose Chief Supervisor had to demonstrate, in-person, the prevention of drift into adjacent fields?

3. Business Resources Wasted.

I’m just going to copy-paste the language from the Skypan petition for summary of the enforcement of the subpoena filed by the Department of Justice:

Skypan is a private, for-profit photography company . . . that specializes in aerial photography. The company has advertised on the internet their use of unmanned aircraft to produce aerial photography and videography products that cannot be obtained through conventional use of manned aircraft. . . . In early September 2012, a second anonymous complaint was made to the Farmingdale FSDO stating that Skypan was again engaged in commercial unmanned aerial photography in the New York Class B airspace area. ASI John Wilkens, Farmingdale FSDO, investigated the allegation that Skypan had operated an unmanned aerial aircraft in violation of Federal Aviation Regulations. On or about September 19, 2012, ASI John Wilkens contacted Mr. Richard Dubrow, employee of Macklowe Properties, regarding the circumstances surrounding their contract with Skypan for aerial photography services. Mr. Dubrow confirmed that Macklowe Properties did contract with Skypan for commercial aerial photography of a development project at 432 Park Avenue, New York, NY.

On November 11, 2012, ASI Wilkens issued a letter of investigation to Skypan advising the company that the FAA was investigating the operation of an unmanned aircraft system for the purpose of commercial photography by Skypan International on or about May 8, 2013, in the vicinity of 432 Park Avenue, New York, New York.

On December 12, 2012, the FAA issued an administrative subpoena duces tecum to Macklowe Properties requiring the company to produce any and all business records, agreements, contracts, photographic products and/or materials and records of any payment relating to a contract for aerial photography between Macklowe Properties and Skypan. Macklowe Properties complied with the FAA’s administrative subpoena duces tecum and produced various business records, receipts, copies of photographs, and written statements clarifying the dates that the unmanned aerial photography took place.

The subpoena asked for all sorts of things such as contracts, agreements, materials, reports, records of payment, “Any and all documents in the possession or control . . . regarding contract negotiations and understandings . . . to include, but not limited to, correspondence records, telephonic messages, emails, or any text communication.” All 9 items started with “Any and all” which gives you an idea of the breadth and depth of the FAA’s subpoena.

Obviously, after you received this you would consult a lawyer and pay them which means $$$ out of your pocket to figure out what you need to do.

You and your employees have to take time away from making money to try and comply with the subpoena. It’s like doing an in-depth tax return where you are throwing under the bus one of your vendors and trying to do damage control with some expensive attorney looking things over. Remember the petition stated,

[T]he FAA issued an administrative subpoena duces tecum to Macklowe Properties requiring the company to produce any and all business records, agreements, contracts, photographic products and/or materials and records of any payment relating to a contract for aerial photography between Macklowe Properties and Skypan. Macklowe Properties complied with the FAA’s administrative subpoena duces tecum and produced various business records, receipts, copies of photographs, and written statements clarifying the dates that the unmanned aerial photography took place.

4. Others Might Question Your Judgement

If you or your company get mixed up into all of this, you might have to explain to you spouse, customers, vendors, co-workers, employees, and the boss what’s going on.

Yikes. That’s stressful.

Don’t believe this can happen?

Here ya go.

Remember that Skypan case above? The petition filed by the DOJ attached a statement from a FAA inspector which gives you an idea of the stress created by the investigation:

“A written request to furnish documents to aid the investigation was made to Macklowe Properties on September 26, 2012. There was no response to the written request. A follow-up telephone [conversation] with Mr. Dubrow took place on October 12, 2012 to check on the status of the document request. Mr. Dubrow confirmed that his company received the request and he passed the letter along to his boss. Mr. Dubrow said they will email the status of the written request. On October 19, 2012 Macklowe properties General Counsel forwarded a letter requesting a subpoena detailing the information that they were requesting. A subpoena was issued as requested.”

5. Insurance Might Not Cover Claims

If you have insurance, there is a good chance there is some type of exclusion in it for crimes or activities that require a license/certificate.  Whoops. You just hired the criminal guy who needed a license.


Directory of Certificated Part 137 Agricultural Aircraft Operators

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 60+ 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 by showing you just only the granted exemption.

I used to put here a directory of all of the 137 operators. However, I was like why in the world am I advertising for other operators who didn’t hire me? I have no clue how good they are. I don’t want to deal with any of that liability also.

Below are some of my clients who have obtained Part 137 operating certificates. Contact them if you need someone to spray your area.

  • 36T Media LLC DBA Drone Tech Solutions
  • Aerospect Inc.
  • AG-BEE LLC
  • Agtak LLC
  • American Drone LLC
  • Clearview Applications LLC
  • Clean Lakes Inc.
  • Davey Resource Group Inc.
  • Dropcopter Inc.
  • Eagle-Eye Aerial Solutions LLC
  • Edko LLC
  • EverGreen FS Inc.
  • Green Field Drone LLC
  • HAWKEYE SPRAY DRONE APPLICATIONS LLC
  • Hill Country Pest Control Inc.
  • HYVE REMOTE AERIAL SOLUTIONS LLC
  • Ideal Elevation Inc.
  • Influential Drones LLC
  • Kdrone Services LLC
  • Kenneth J Hahn
  • Miller Grain Farms
  • Mitchel Anthofer
  • Philip E Shaner
  • Snyders Crop Service LLC
  • Tech Ag Air LLC
  • The Drone Farmers LLC

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. There have been many exemptions that were defective filed by consultants who missed regulations. If those operators said they were flying to their consultant, that’s a potential witness against you in case anyone starts investigating.

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. Let that sink in. They hurt their client and ran to another state. It will look pretty bad to your boss if you hire a so-called attorney who turns out to not be a LICENSED attorney. Also, another thing to consider is if a person says they “were” an attorney. They typically use alot of past tense language. Why are they not one now?  That’s odd. That’s how I figured out that person just mentioned was because that person just said they “were” an attorney. I was like “Why would a person step down from an attorney to being just something equivalent of a consultant program manager?” I searched on some different state bar websites and found the person listed as disbarred.

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. If you have an aircraft capable of flying over 55 pounds, to fly under Part 107, your drone sprayer needs to weigh under 55 pounds on take-off.  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 to spray the edges of fields. Some people don’t realize that some aircraft are never able to fly under 55 pounds due to limiting payload. You might need a second aircraft optimized for under 55 pounds to fly the edges in those buffer zones mentioned above.

B. Different Rules. This can be an issue as you are flying NOT under Part 107 but under the rest of the regulations. This can cause proficiency issues or random hang ups like the Class C veil ADS-B issue.

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. If there isn’t any reliability data, we will have to mitigate the risks with buffer zones and other restrictions which becomes annoying.

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. Strangely, some of the clients of consultants (trying to assist clients in being legal) miss this point and I never see them show up in the Part 47 registration database. But that’s what you get when you’re not working with a real licensed drone attorney.  Do a search for yourself on the FAA’s registration database. You can search make/models here. https://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/Search/MakeModelInquiry


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. It is important to do your regulatory homework before purchasing a drone.


Spray Drone Research, Reading, Presentations, Data, etc.

Mosquito Control Reading on Drone Spraying


FAQs Surrounding Exemption and Certifications Process

I have helped obtain for clients 84+ exemptions and 32 agricultural aircraft operating certificates.  I managed to obtain records of the drone spraying operating certificates out there and discovered that on 6/3/2022, 30% of the United States operators were my clients who I helped get all the way to an operating certificate. My closest competitor made up only 13%. As of 6/3/22, I have more operating certificates than all attorneys and consultants combined in the United States.

Based upon all that, here are your answers…….

How quickly can we get moving?

I can typically file the paperwork in 1-7 business days after I receive the contract and payment. Generally, I try to file in the next 1 to 2 business days.

Can I file the paperwork at the FSDO right away?

Yes, I provide instructions on how to do this. To do the operating certification with the local FSDO, you need to file the 8710-3 form which asks for the aircraft and registration number. Under 55-pound drones can be registered under Part 48 on the FAA’s Drone Zone page. 30 minutes with a credit card and you are done. Drones 55 pounds and heavier have to be registered under Part 47 to obtain an N-number registration. This process can take 1-5 months. There is a service (not sure on the costs) I know of that can hand-walk it over and get those approved within a week or so. But if you are going to wait 6+ months anyways to do your certification, just file the slow way and save on costs. I would suggest just filing the 8710-3 paperwork immediately saying you already filed for the N number registration and will update the FSDO when the registration paperwork comes in. Once again, if hired, I’ll send instructions on how to do this.

Can I add aircraft later?

To your operating certificate, yes. For the under 55 pound exemption, yes, because under 55 exemptions are aircraft agnostic. The remote pilot in command determines the aircraft’s airworthiness of the aircraft. You can have a blimp, X-Wing, helicopter, airplane, or whatever. The remote pilot determines the airworthiness. This also means any future aircraft, not even created, can just be in the future purchased, registered, and then be added to the operating certificate. For 55 pounds and heavier exemptions, the aircraft must be specifically listed on the exemption. The airworthiness of the aircraft is the issue with 55+ exemptions. Why? With Part 107 the airworthiness is determined by the remote pilot in command while with Part 91 operations for 55+ drones, the FAA determines the aircraft are airworthy or the Department of Transportation determines the aircraft do not need an airworthiness certificate. The lowest cost way we are doing it now is the DOT determines if the aircraft does not need an airworthiness certificate and that can take 1-1.5 years. This means while brand-new drones may be already sold and around the country, the DOT may be slow to approve them. If the DOT has determined your aircraft by make and model, you do not have to have it redetermined in a petition for exemption. This speeds up the turn around time for the exemption approval! The DOT doesn’t need to do the full-blown analysis again. This is why some people choose to pick one petition for exemption for an aircraft already determined by the DOT under 49 USC 44807 so as to ensure the exemption gets rapidly approved to get through the certification process quickly and maybe have another more advanced aircraft on a separate petition. You split up the petitions so as to ensure one gets approved quickly.

Is there a list for all aircraft USC 44807ed?

The FAA doesn’t create one.  No. But I have a list of aircraft I made for myself. Here is a list of some, not all, of the make/models that have been determined under 44807:
DJI T16, T20, T30.
Hylio – AG-116, AG-120, AG-122, AG- 130.
Leading Edge PV30, PV35, PV35X, PV40X.
XAG- V40

I can’t make up my mind about which drone to buy. Do I need to give you an answer now on which ONE aircraft I want to spray with?

No. Just give me your top 3 picks that you know you will use one of them for sure. I’ll file the petition for exemption for all 3 aircraft and at least get that ball rolling. It takes 60-250 calendar days to get that approved so we should start that process as soon as possible.

Do I have to own an aircraft to start the process?

You need an exemption and operating certificate. You can petition and be granted an exemption and not own the aircraft. Going through the agricultural aircraft operating certification process will require you to list the aircraft which means you will need to have figured things out by then. You can choose to do the exemption first and then the operating certificate later or in parallel. It’s up to you. You’ll just need to own at least one aircraft about the time you start the operating certification process because the first piece of paper you have to file to start that process asks for your make/model and registration number.

Do I have to have a remote pilot certificate to start the process?

No. You can petition and obtain an exemption without even having a pilot certificate. To start the operating certificate, you can put a statement in it saying you presently do NOT have a remote pilot certificate, but you are studying for the exam. You then update the FSDO when you obtain the pilot certificate. You will need the pilot certificate before the FAA will schedule you for your final agricultural aircraft operating certification inspection.

How does it work with aircraft over 55 pounds? Why can’t we combine everything into one exemption?

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 to have 2 exemptions. Don’t try and combine things. 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. The petitions also get processed at different speeds which you can use to your advantage if you split it up.

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 could in theory have one aircraft and two different exemptions. You would “mow the lawn” with the 55+ exemption and “weed wack” the edges with the under 55 when you are near people, houses, cars, etc. In reality, this is hard to achieve. Do the math and you’ll notice most drones WITH THEIR BATTERY WEIGHT ADDED IN are over 55 pounds with no payload. Many manuals and specs online show only the empty aircraft weight. Batteries are heavy and tend to push up the weight.

Can I add exemptions and waivers later on or do I need to get them now?

Yes. You can add exemptions and waivers onto your operating certificate. You aren’t locked into the first exemption. Can’t make up your mind on what to do? Just pick one petition for exemption to start immediately so you can get to the operating certification as fast as possible. Add on whatever else you want when you figure out things later on.

I want to swarm under 55 pounds and 55+. What are the problems here?

You can add on a swarm waiver (14 CFR 107.35) for the under 55 pound operations after you obtain the operating certificate and exemption. This is actually better as it presents less headaches during the initial process. If you want to do things rapidly, you can file once the exemption is granted (the waiver needs your exemption ID which you only get when you get it granted) and not have to wait to obtain the operating certificate. You would then just add the waiver onto the operating certificate’s letter of authorization For 55+ swarming, the approval must be in the exemption, not the waiver, and this can take a LONG time. Under 55 107.35 waivers take around 60-120 calendar days to get approved while a 55+ exemption for swarming can take 1-1.5 years! If the safety mitigations for 55+ are similar to something previously approved, it in theory could get approved much more rapidly but the issue is your geographic area must be very very similar in size and type (e.g. sparsely populate) as the one previously approved. Off the top of my head, as of 10/14/22, I can only think of 2 55+ swarming exemptions at all while I have 5 107.35 waivers approved already just for myself! Remember you can start out with 55+ exemption for 1 drone and we can petition later on, or simultaneously, for a 55+ swarming exemption. Whenever the swarming 55+ gets approved, you start operating under it.

I really want to spray large volumes of chemical. Doesn’t a 30-liter seem so much more efficient?

I have another alternative you might have not thought of. Swarm with 3-5 drones. 3 10 liter drones = 30liters. This can be done under Part 107 without the pesky 55+ buffer zone restrictions! You can also scale things easier. Consider a 1 v 3 operation (30 liters) or 1 v 5 (50 liters) spraying at one time. You can have each small under 55 pound drone deployed in the back of a truck with one employee running around and spraying small jobs. If you land a big job, you can assemble multiple aircraft and some pilots to do the bigger job. (This is somewhat a more common scenario in operations east of the Mississippi river). It simplifies the whole capital expenditure for the 30-liter drone and the tons of batteries you need. You just purchase more of the same make/model and associated batteries. Training, operations, etc. all become much simpler with 1 make and model. Proficiency is easier because you just have to be proficient on Part 107 and not also Part 43,61, 91, etc. (which apply for 55 pound+ operations). 55+ exemption approvals are make/model specific (I sure hope they keep making that drone and batteries long into the future) while under 55 is aircraft agnostic. The environment of your potential customers determines if this is an option.

What is the minimum number of drones I need to do the operating certification?

One.

Some company is currently offering to do all of the exemption filing services for me. Why pick you?

Simple. I’m an attorney that is licensed to practice law in the jurisdiction where I operate which means I can provide you legal advice – legally. There are companies out there like Agrispray, Maverick Drones, HSE that not licensed to provide legal advice where they reside. Drafting and filing legal paperwork for others is a legal service and is regulated. These entities cannot practice law. Furthermore, they typically hire Kelly Neubecker who lives in Simla, Colorado and she is also NOT licensed to practice law where she resides. If anyone is advertising her as an attorney, contact the Colorado Bar to report this. She is not a Colorado attorney. You can verify this here. http://www.coloradosupremecourt.com/Search/AttSearch.asp Why would you hire someone to help you be legally compliant when they are providing you legal services and they themselves are not licensed to practice law? Do they have legal practice insurance to protect you if they make a mistake in drafting your exemption paperwork incorrectly? I don’t know if any insurance company would even issue this if a person was not licensed to practice law. I have malpractice to protect you. Our conversations are also protected by the attorney-client privilege. All conversations and emails between you and any non-attorney consultants are fair game for law enforcement or plaintiff attorneys to go after. Working with a person who is not licensed to practice law where they operate can open all sorts of issues regarding whether emails, phone calls, conversations, etc. are all protected by the attorney-client privilege. The first person I would subpoena in a lawsuit would be the consultant because they cannot say attorney-client privilege and will be forced into a bad situation: (1) testify against you, (2) commit perjury and risk going to prison, (3) be held in contempt of court and risk going to jail. Law enforcement knows this also. So do competitors. And anyone who has emailed me and reading this portion of the email. In such a highly regulated area, why would you expose yourself to such risk? The attorney-client privilege is to encourage open conversations without them being used later in court so you can find out the regulatory problems and remedy them now. Isn’t the idea to find problems and fix them before they become big problems later. Just take a step back and ask yourself why the reseller is offering to file legal paperwork or recommend someone else to when this type of activity is a regulated activity. This indicates at best an ignorant business or at worst they just don’t care about the law which was designed to create a certain standard of care to protect YOU as the consumer. You should also ask the reseller if they are being paid any referral fees or are upselling the services for selling this service. Are they selling services and taking their fee off the top? This means they are doing what is in their best interest for their bottom line. As a Florida attorney, the Florida bar completely forbids me from paying referral fees to non-attorneys or any of these resellers.

What other factors should I consider when hiring someone to help me?

I assist clients with obtaining all sorts of other waivers that are beneficial with drone spraying operations such as beyond line-of-sight waivers, swarming waivers, over people waivers, etc. If you go with the other guy, I don’t know what they did for you, and I may not even be able to get you a waiver using their documents and manuals. In other words, you may pick a low-cost option now but it ends up stopping you or cost you more to go for more exotic approvals to stay competitive in the future. Can anyone else obtain a beyond line-of-sight waiver, over people waiver, swarming waivers? I can. Keep in mind that some of the other consultants may have marked their documents as proprietary and confidential. Unless you obtain an approval from them for me to look at their work, I will NOT look at their documents and risk getting sued. This means getting you a swarm, beyond line-of-sight waiver, etc. will be almost impossible without me reviewing their documents.

Once I obtain all of the federal approvals, I’m good to go right?

Depending on what you are spraying, state laws may also apply. You may need to obtain state pesticide licensing approvals for restricted use pesticides. Important note: you do NOT need to have your state pesticide licenses in order to obtain your federal operating certificate. If you do have your state pesticide licenses, you can tell the FAA that you have them and they can accept that as verification of your pesticide knowledge so your final inspection could be shorter in time.

What should I know about when selecting a 55 pound and heavier aircraft?

55 and heavier aircraft must be airworthy (see 14 CFR 91.7) or be determined by the DOT to not need an airworthiness certificate (see 49 USC 44807). This means the FAA or DOT must make these determinations and this can take a LONGGGG time. Right now, 99% of stuff is utilizing the DOT’s 44807 determinations. The process to determine can take like 1-1.5 years. Once the aircraft has been determined, the DOT doesn’t need to reevaluate it again and everyone can benefit from that first determination. Basically, don’t try and pioneer things but let others try and do the heavy lifting on getting the first one through.

One issue with filing for a non-determined aircraft is the petition for exemption process could take a long time while the DOT is evaluating the aircraft. Because of this, sometimes people hire me to file one petition for a determined aircraft and file another for an undetermined aircraft The other issue is the manufacturers are slow in creating documentation to support the aircraft. The maintenance manual is my biggest problem.

This creates a big issue. Some people want to petition for some super cutting-edge drone. The manufacturer has not created the maintenance manual. We will have to petition from multiple regulations that involve preventative maintenance and the only way we can get out of some of the maintenance regulations is using the manufacturer’s manuals. We’ll state this in the petition. If we file a petition saying we are going to use the maintenance manuals, which are presently being created, we could be asked by the FAA for them to review them. You have sometime like 2-4 weeks to respond. If we don’t send it over, then you get denied. And no, you, nor I, can create the maintenance manual that the manufacturer created. How can you and I say we know our maintenance manual is good enough?

DJI T40 – It has not been determined but I am willing to file for it provided you know that the FAA might ask me for a maintenance manual. However, DJI did put into their latest user manual some maintenance information which I will try and use. I’m watching other petitions for the T40. I should have some heads up on how the FAA responds to their petitions. In a worse-case scenario, we will have 30 days to email DJI and ask them to give us one if the FAA determines the user manual with maintenance is not enough. If we do not have a DJI-created maintenance manual in time, the petition could be denied. I’m just trying to be upfront and give you an idea of all of the risks involved. :)
If you want something other than what is listed, contact me and I’ll let you know if we can attempt it.


My Services

Exemption Only Services (Bare Bones):

  • $500 for Under 55 Pound Exemption. $750 for a 55+ exemption. Generally, any under 55-pound aircraft. For 55-pound and heavier aircraft, unless otherwise specified in the contract, ones that have been determined under 44807 and you or the manufacturer can provide me with the manufacturer’s created maintenance manual. I’m presently doing the DJI T40 here because I sufficiently feel comfortable attempting this aircraft because DJI has maintenance information I can use.
  • ZERO minutes of help answering questions or resolving problems.
  • I create operations and training manuals.
  • I file the petition for exemption and manuals to the FAA.
  • No proprietary step-by-step instructions on obtaining the operating certification.
  • Best for those that have operating certifications or already working with me to obtain an operating certificate.

Online Part 137 Course

  • Under Construction.
  • I’m presently drafting this. The idea is it will be a lower-cost online course solution to Level 1. Sign up for the newsletter to stay informed.

Level 1:

  • $2,000
  • 30 Minutes answering legal and aviation-related problems. Remember I’m a current FAA certificated flight instructor(CFI/CFII) and current attorney so I can answer a wide range of topics.
  • Exemption only services plus also:
    • Step-by-step instructions on registering a Part 47 drone to obtain an N-Number registration.
    • Study material.
    • Step-by-step “Roadmap” instruction guide to obtaining an operating certification. This 59+ page document contains info on:
      • Each step of the process.
      • How to fill out the forms.
      • Potential pitfalls with the local FAA FSDO that waste a lot of your time.
      • Strategies for speeding up the process.
      • How to deal with FAA requiring you to include certain things in your manual that aren’t legally required (and wasting ALOT of your time). I have spent ALOT of my time in this area with the FAA inspectors over the years. Leave from my many many interactions.
      • How to prepare for the final inspection so you will be confident answering questions from the 1 to 3  FAA inspectors that will do the in-person inspection.
      • Explanation of the different documents you receive from the FAA after you obtain the operating certification.
      • How to amend things after you obtain an operating certificate.
  • After the exemption is granted, you are on your own to resolve any operating certification-related problems with your local FAA FSDO. This means I won’t be around to answer any of your questions in preparation for the operating certification final inspection with the 1 to 3 FAA inspectors.

Level 2:

  • $5,000
  • 200 Minutes (Useful for you when you are preparing for your final FAA inspection).
  • Everything from Level 1.
  • Helping resolve FAA problems during the certification process related to paperwork, the law, manuals, etc. by strategizing with you, and if necessary, communicating to the FAA inspectors directly. My goal is to get you an operating certification by passing the final inspection.

Swarming for 1 RPIC and 1 VO with up to 5 drones in the air.

  • $3,000
  • Only for clients who hired me to create their manuals and obtain their exemptions. (I have to put extra stuff in the manuals for swarming. I’m familiar with my manuals which results in lower costs.)
  • I update the manuals, file a CONOPS, and hazard analysis risk assessment with the waiver application.
  • Email me and I’ll send you the FAQs and all of the info.

Beyond Line of Sight Waiver for Scouting/Crop Health

  • $5,000-10,000 depending on the aircraft and operations.
  • Email me and I can send the huge FAQs and info.

How do we get started?

I need you to sign the contract and I need to be paid. Only after both have been accomplished by you, will I start processing the paperwork. Yes, I require 100% payment upfront.  Why? I spend my time working on client projects and not trying to collect late payments. Furthermore, I have skin in the game. If I stiff you, contact the Florida Bar and report me. I have a law license I won’t risk stiffing you. You can see my record here which shows “None” under the section talking about discipline history.

1. PAYMENT

2. FILL OUT THE CONTRACT

You can fill out the contract using the RSign links below. Click the link and fill it out. It asks for all of the information I need to know to start the process. If I have questions, I’ll contact you.


Conclusion

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 have malpractice insurance. 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.