top of page

Latest Information on Agricultural Drones, FAA Regulations, and State Laws

When it comes to agriculture we go beyond just providing the basics in our blog posts – we follow up with in-depth articles on the topics that matter most to you. Our commitment to your success is what drives us to provide comprehensive and reliable information, ensuring that you stay informed on the latest trends and best practices in agriculture.

California Bill 1016

Below I have posted the previous code established in Section 11902 of the Food and Agricultural and the changes that AB 1016 has made.  The new regulations will ​modernize and stramline the California Department of Pesticide’s certification. 


Changes made to the California Bill 1016
AB 1016, as amended, Jones-Sawyer. Pest control operations: aircraft operations: private applicator.

(1) Existing law makes it unlawful for any person to operate an aircraft in pest control unless, among other things, the pilot operating the aircraft holds a valid manned or unmanned pest control aircraft pilot’s certificate issued by the Director of Pesticide Regulation. Existing law requires each unmanned pest control aircraft pilot’s certificate to designate the pilot’s status as a journeyman, apprentice, or vector control technician, and requires an applicant for a manned or unmanned pest control aircraft pilot’s certificate to pass an examination as a condition of licensure.

This bill would additionally include the status of private applicator as a designation under the unmanned pest control aircraft pilot’s certificate. The bill would prohibit an individual with a private applicator unmanned pest control aircraft pilot’s certificate from applying pesticides except for the purpose of producing an agricultural commodity on property owned, leased, or rented by the pilot or their employer. The bill would require a pilot to submit satisfactory documentary proof demonstrating the pilot’s completion of a program accredited by the director and possession of a valid private applicator certificate to be eligible for an unmanned pest control aircraft pilot’s certificate under the status of private applicator, and to pass an examination as a condition of licensure.
 

(2) Existing law prohibits the issuance of a journeyman’s certificate until the applicant has served as an apprentice under an apprentice certificate for one year and until the applicant presents to the director certain documentary proof that the applicant operated an aircraft in pest control activities for a specified amount of time within the previous 2 years, as provided.

This bill would, notwithstanding the above limitation, authorize the director to establish specific requirements for obtaining an unmanned journeyman certificate. certificate, as specified.
 

(3) Existing law makes it unlawful for any person to act as a pest control aircraft pilot in any county without first registering with the appropriate county agricultural commissioner. Under existing law, it is unlawful to use any fraud or misrepresentation in connection with meeting any license requirement relating to pest control operations. A violation of this provision is a crime.

To the extent the bill would expand the scope of existing crimes, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program.

The California Constitution requires the state to reimburse local agencies and school districts for certain costs mandated by the state. Statutory provisions establish procedures for making that reimbursement.

This bill would provide that no reimbursement is required by this act for a specified reason.

 

The language used in the Bill is somewhat unclear regarding what qualifies as "satisfactory documentary proof" or "establishing specific requirements." However, the Bill grants the DPR the authority to create appropriate regulations based on the unmanned aircraft pilot license, as well as industry and technology needs. This allows the DPR to incorporate UAS technology within the reach of all farmers, providing a cost-effective way to protect crops by enabling drones to target only affected areas instead of entire fields. Additionally, remote technologies can replace backpack spray and ground-based delivery systems, which protects agricultural employees from close contact with pesticide applications. In essence, the Bill aims to give farmers better access to innovative technology to improve efficiency and safety.
 

Previous standing Code
SECTION 1.

 Section 11902 of the Food and Agricultural Code is amended to read:

 

11902.

 (a) Each manned pest control aircraft pilot’s certificate shall designate the manned pest control aircraft pilot’s status as a journeyman or apprentice.

(b) Each unmanned pest control aircraft pilot’s certificate shall designate the unmanned pest control aircraft pilot’s status as a journeyman, apprentice, private applicator, or vector control technician.

 

SEC. 2.

 Section 11902.1 is added to the Food and Agricultural Code, to read:

 

11902.1.

 An individual with a private applicator unmanned pest control aircraft pilot’s certificate shall only apply pesticides for the purpose of producing an agricultural commodity on property owned, leased, or rented by the pilot or their employer.

 

SEC. 3.

 Section 11902.5 of the Food and Agricultural Code is amended to read:

 

11902.5.

 (a) To be eligible for an unmanned pest control aircraft pilot’s certificate under the status of vector control technician, a pilot shall be certified by the State Department of Public Health as a vector control technician in the category of mosquito control pursuant to paragraph (1) of subdivision (a) of Section 2052 of the Health and Safety Code.

(b) To be eligible for an unmanned pest control aircraft pilot’s certificate under the status of private applicator, a pilot shall submit satisfactory documentary proof demonstrating the pilot’s completion of a program accredited by the director and possession of a valid private applicator certificate.

 

SEC. 4.

 Section 11905 of the Food and Agricultural Code is amended to read:

 

11905.

 Before an initial manned or unmanned certificate is issued, the applicant for an apprentice, journeyman, private applicator, or vector control technician shall pass an examination to demonstrate to the director the applicant’s ability to legally and safely conduct pest control operations and the applicant’s knowledge of the nature and effect of materials that are used in pest control.

 

SEC. 5.

 Section 11907 of the Food and Agricultural Code is amended to read:

 

11907.

 (a) Except as provided in subdivision (b), a journeyman’s certificate shall not be issued until both of the following have occurred:

(1) The applicant has served as an apprentice under a certificate issued pursuant to this chapter for one year.

(2) The applicant presents to the director satisfactory documentary proof consisting of a declaration or affidavit by the holder of a journeyman’s certificate attesting to the applicant’s performance, under the attesting journeyman’s direct and personal supervision, of not less than 150 hours of operation of fixed-wing aircraft or 50 hours of operation of nonfixed-wing aircraft within the previous two calendar years in pest control activities, together with any other evidence as the director may require.

(b) (1) The director may adopt regulations to establish specific requirements for obtaining an unmanned journeyman certificate.

(2) The regulations shall consider requiring that the applicant complete 50 hours of operation of nonfixed-wing aircraft, or the equivalent practical training, in pest control activities within the previous two calendar years to ensure the legal and safe application of pesticides.

 

SEC. 6.

 No reimbursement is required by this act pursuant to Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution because the only costs that may be incurred by a local agency or school district will be incurred because this act creates a new crime or infraction, eliminates a crime or infraction, or changes the penalty for a crime or infraction, within the meaning of Section 17556 of the Government Code, or changes the definition of a crime within the meaning of Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution.

Reviewing How H.R. 2864 is a Big Misstep for American Agriculture

During my visit to Capitol Hill to discuss transportation legislation, I was disheartened by how many lawmakers seem unaware of how their policies can hinder American businesses. H.R. 2864 (Stefanik), a bill seeking to ban DJI drones for all users, ignores drones' vital role in precision agriculture.

What is the FCC Covered List?

The FCC Covered List identifies communications equipment deemed a national security risk (Federal Communications Commission). If DJI is added, the FCC will revoke DJI’s authorization to transmit radio frequencies. This means no DJI drone, existing or new, could legally operate in the U.S. This ban would impact all DJI users, from hobbyists to those in non-critical fields.

Farmers Feel the Brunt of the DJI Drone Ban

American farmers have invested millions of dollars in DJI technology. A sudden ban would render their drones, software, and training worthless. Most troubling is the loss of productivity. DJI drones increase crop yields, streamline pesticide applications, and dramatically improve scouting. Farmers would be forced back to less efficient, more costly methods, cutting their bottom line. Since many farmers spearhead tech upgrades in rural communities, a ban has a ripple effect, harming progress for everyone.

The Flawed Logic of "Patriotism": Security or Scapegoating?

It's unwise to frame bans as a patriotic solution. True strength lies in supporting American companies to outperform competitors. While concerns about crop data security are valid, there are smarter solutions. An immediate ban only creates chaos and leaves farmers scrambling. It doesn't truly address how data is used or protected. Ultimately, we must ask ourselves: does a ban make us safer, or does it just benefit our global competitors with little security gain for the U.S.?

 

America Loses The Chance to Lead in Drone Technology

This ban cripples our future in agricultural technology. Instead of developing a skilled American drone workforce, we block innovation. Funding meant to build our own domestic industry will go towards enforcing the ban.

America could be the global leader in agricultural drones, setting standards that protect both farmers and national security. However, this ban cedes that position, forcing us to play catch-up instead of leading the way.

Smarter Drone Solutions Exist

Rather than bans, we should implement strong data security standards for all agricultural drones, regardless of origin. We need focused tax breaks and government grants to support American drone manufacturers targeting the needs of our farmers. Lastly, America should lead in setting international security standards for agricultural drones, allowing us to influence the entire market and protect our security interests.

  • Data Protection is Key: Regulations should mandate high-level encryption for all agricultural drone data, ensuring it's protected.

  • Farmers in Control: Farmers must have clear visibility into what data is collected and the ability to control how it's used or shared.

  • Enforcement Through Audits: Regular third-party audits of drone manufacturers and software providers will guarantee compliance with these standards.

 

It's Not About Beating China, It's About Boosting America

Focusing on bans distracts from the real competitive threat: American agriculture falling behind.

By creating a better relationship with our Departments of Ags, thereby leading us to our state legislatures, we can educate how H.R. 2864 is defeating policies that put America's farmers first!

 

 

What Action Should Be Taken?

Actually nothing. It's currently only supported by 6 Congressmen. It's an election year, and with only 6 sponsors, it will not reach the floor for a vote. Follow the bill here (Link)

Sign the petition here (Link)

Works Cited

Federal Communications Commission. “List of Equipment and Services Covered By Section 2 of The Secure Networks Act.” Federal Communications Commission, Federal Communications Commission, 12 March 2021, https://www.fcc.gov/supplychain/coveredlist. Accessed 28 February 2024.

Stefanik, Elise M. “H.R.2864 Countering CCP Drones Act.” Congress.Gov, Library of Congress, 28 4 2023, https://www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/house-bill/2864?s=1&r=68. Accessed 28 February 2024.

Agricultural Drone FAA Regulations & State Laws: Your Essential Guide

Section 1: Let's get Started

  •  “Don't let regulatory confusion ground your agricultural drone operations. Understand the core FAA rules impacting agricultural Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) flights AND how to find applicable laws in your state to fly with confidence and avoid penalties.”

  • After testing over 190 pilots all over the country, from farmers to for hire, managing over 28,000 flights for over 4100 hours of flight time, and creating a UAS Ag Drone curriculum available in over 2,000 schools, we feel we really understand the value of this technology and what it brings into the agriculture world.

 

Section 2: Drone Roadblocks: When FAA Rules Impact Your Farm

  • It's important to understand the rules set by the FAA before flying an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS). These are different from the drones available in stores like Costco as they can weigh up to 200 pounds with payloads.  It has rules to fly. To fly legally, you must have:

    • 107 license even if you are a manned pilot

    • Class 3 medical or above

    • UAS must have a registered N# with the FAA

  • You may also hear that “states” are not allowing Chinese UAS drones or trying to prohibit DJI from flying in the U.S.  It is true, and we are working to educate the federal legislatures that have proposed this Bill, but currently it only pertain to state and federal contracts .

  • If a neighbor complains about your flight path, they cannot legally stop you from flying your farm as long as you have the proper licenses for both state and federal regulations.

 

Section 3: Why Regulations Matter for Your Agricultural UAS

  • Regulations are important when it comes to the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for spraying chemicals from the air. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires operators to demonstrate their knowledge of the rules and regulations pertaining to UAS operations, while the state requires them to be licensed to perform chemical spraying from the air. By adhering to safety protocols and industry standards, the UAS industry can help farmers cut costs and improve their bottom line by reducing chemical usage. This puts the farmer in direct control of their operations and ultimately results in higher yields, as UAS technology continues to revolutionize the farming industry.

 

Section 4: FAA Rules for Agricultural Drones – Part 107 and Part 137

  • FAA Part 107 Overview: In order to operate a drone, regardless of its size, make, or model, all drone operators must hold a Part 107 license. Interested pilots can take online classes and then take the 107 test at an FAA testing facility. It is important to note that the 107 license is not permanent; pilots must renew it online every two years. Additionally, even if you have a manned pilot license, you still need a 107 license to operate a drone.

  • FAA Part 137: Agricultural Aircraft Operations: A 137 is the FAA designation that allows a agricultural aircraft operation to:

    • distribute any economical 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.

  • Case Study:  This has been a bit of a moving target of what some of these definitions include.

    • Distribute any economic poison. We had a conversation about “economic poison,” which by definition denotes a change in the molecular level of a good or bad plant. We sprayed a stadium chair for COVID with a biochemical that could be ingested and still fell under the “intent” of our spraying.

    • We have also had conversations with the FAA whereby we suggested that our pilots practice spraying water before testing for knowledge and their practical test. The FAA said they were having internal discussions about water being considered propagation. We pushed back HARD and asked the FAA if they were promoting that our pilots test over roadways so as not to propagate any plants with water. They conceded that action would not be safe and agreed with us to allow pilots to learn to spray water in a safe field.

  • U.PASS Assists:

    • I had the privilege of answering 1,000 questions from numerous pilots, which led to the creation of a membership website called U.PASS. The U.PASS website functions as a one-stop platform where both new and experienced pilots can access general information and ask state-specific questions related to the aviation industry. There are dedicated forums for each state where pilots can share their best practices, find certified drone dealers, watch tutorial videos, access logbook apps, view state events listings, and read articles from various state departments of agriculture.

    • U.PAA is a website designed for pilots to navigate the aviation industry and to have a voice in the best practices for crop and state. The website offers a guide that can assist new and current pilots in 85% of their queries, along with a forum to provide unique information to them.

 

Section 5: Is There Flexibility? Drone Section 44807 Explained

  • The FAA and state requirements do not offer any flexibility, but let's clarify the terminology we use.

 

  • A pilot has his his 107 and his Class Medical.  He has even bought a drone. So now what?

 

  • The next step is getting a 137 right?  No. To operate a drone, a pilot needs to follow certain steps. After obtain a unique N# identifier pilots can now apply for their 44807 certification, which is mandatory for drones weighing over 55 pounds. Only after obtaining this certification can they apply for the 137 certification. It's important to note that the 137 certification is the ultimate certification, but pilots must obtain several other documents before they can apply for it.

 

  • U.PAA Assists: Obtaining an 44807, is a time-consuming process and requires expertise to demonstrate FAA knowledge. Only a few people are submitting these applications and getting them approved within a 4-6 week period. This is where U.PASS comes in to help you with the entire process, guide you through the process and get you through to your 137 and beyond.

 

Section 6:  Know When the Class 3 Medical Requirement Applies

  • Most drone or UAS operators will never need a medical; this is reserved only for the drone classification over 55lb. So agriculture UASs operating under 55lbs will not require a Class 3 Medical.

  • https://www.faa.gov/documentLibrary/media/Notice/N_8900.659.pdf  page 4 d.(2) explains this requirement and its reasoning.

 

Section 7: Beyond the FAA: How State & Local Laws Impact Your UAS Flights

  • FAA commands all airspace. If a pilot follows Federal Laws, they're compliant in all airspace, regardless of land ownership. However, the state has overriding command over what is distributed on its land.

  • State Law: Each state has its own unique requirements and licensing practices for obtaining a chemical license. For instance, in Oregon, 50 flight hours under a journeyman are necessary, while North Carolina requires 120 hours under a journeyman, and North Dakota only requires 10. To be licensed for chemicals in Arizona, five tests are required, whereas in Missouri, only a core and category test, which is one test, is required.

  • Other Local Law: Each state has its own requirements and practices for obtaining a chemical license. Moreover, the state does not define any particular no-fly zones near roadways. The reason for this is that such areas fall under the airspace, and all the regulations related to them are specified in the CAAO attached to your 137 application.

  • U.PASS Assists: It can be confusing to navigate and keep track of the federal and state regulations. U.PASS has come up with individual dedicated state pages to help pilots stay up-to-date with state-specific laws and reporting. These pages also provide links to Department of Agriculture study materials, licensing, and reciprocity. Moreover, any new information or changes to requirements or reporting will be posted by the Department of Agriculture on these pages.

 

Section 8: Drone Enforcement: Know the Risks, Fly Smart

  • Interestingly enough, it’s not the FAA that will fine you. I have heard of grounding for multiple infractions, but they have moved away from monetary fines since the new 137 regulations came out. The penalties come out with the state and the insurance.

  • State fines: Since the FAA has said that UASs are low risk and just about allowed anyone to fly, the states have had to become stronger and more fierce on their regulations and reporting. They have no problem enforcing and suspending licenses for misconduct.

  • Insurance coverage: Insurance coverage is another place to get into trouble with damaged or over-spraying crops. They first ask for your compliance with the FAA and your 137 operations. If you are not compliant with all your FAA training and reporting, they have the right to deny your coverage and crop damage.

  • How can a pilot ensure his protection? Through record keeping! In Oregon, someone reported a pilot for spraying too close to waterways. Fortunately, we were able to provide records from his logbook, which verified that he was not even in the area. Maintaining meticulous records through an electronic logbook is crucial for proving the legitimacy of spraying operations to the state and the FAA."

  • U.PASS Assists: Because of the vast experience in helping pilots set up their billing and manage their logbook flights, there isn't a user-friendly ag logbook system. So, we created one under U.PASS that addresses the pilot's state and federal compliance, billing, and chemical calculator. It is the most comprehensive logbook specifically for agriculture on the market—a logbook built by pilots.

 

Section 9: Do I need a  Logbook?

  • Asking the question if you need a logbook means the pilot understands compliance: Both the FAA and the state need records of flights and applications. After working with 200 pilots, I realized no current logbook on the market solved ALL the compliance issues of both agencies, so I built a team and created my own. The other problem is how complicated the other logbooks were. Our logbook platform is easy to use as many pilots have others to enter the information for them. I also needed a platform that will allow expansion as 137 operations change or increase. With our logbook, pilots can easily generate bills from the data recorded in a Quickbooks-friendly manner. Pilots can input data into the platform, which can be reported to the FAA and the state. Moreover, the platform can integrate the data with accounting software. Welcome to the best version of 137 compliance software, AgriSight Drone Logbook. It streamlines Agricultural UAV Operations, making them more efficient and compliant.

 

Section 10: Staying Updated: Flying Sprayer Essential Resources

  • Until now, there hasn't been a single website that provides comprehensive information to pilots who are interested in agriculture applications or need to stay up-to-date with the latest changes and best practices. Although the FAA and the State Department of Agriculture have information on their websites, it can be challenging to find this information if you are not aware of where to look, let alone implement it in practice.

  • Creating the U.PASS system helps in gathering all the necessary information required for state and federal compliance. It will also enable pilots to share their knowledge and experiences about the best practices in their respective states. On a national level, it will help in keeping all pilots informed about the legislation being proposed or needing to be implemented for or against..

  • Log into www.UPASS.Foundation

 

Section 11: My Expert Perspective: The Future of Ag Drone Regulation

  • Rules are more likely to tighten by the states since the FAA has loosened theirs. U.PASS is encouraging state to become more uniform in their requirements for aerial application, and making suggestions on best practices across the board.  I created a national work group for all the departments of ag to come together and discuss best practices.  Currently California and their new requirements seems to be leading the conversation by creating flight and application rules.

  • U.PASS Assists: U.PASS will serve as a bridge to facilitate the implementation of regulatory changes as the industry evolves. Given that U.PASS is designed to operate on a state-by-state basis, pilots and agricultural departments will find it easier to adapt to any changes.

 

Section 11: Resources

The U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION National Policy

bottom of page