By Rebecca McCray
Law360, New York (January 08, 2015, 2:51 PM ET) — The Federal Aviation Administration announced Tuesday that it granted its first regulatory exemption for agricultural commercial unmanned aircraft system use to Idaho’s Advanced Aviation Solutions, or Adavso, in addition to authorizing UAS use for a real estate photographer in Arizona.
Adavso is the first company to be approved in the agricultural sector and one of only 14 companies that have received exemption approval from the FAA for commercial unmanned aircraft systems operation. The company will use its approval for “photogrammetry and crop scouting,” according to the FAA’s grant exemption.
“This technology is outstanding for agriculture,” Steven Edgar, co-founder and CEO of Adavso, told Law360. “It’s just another tool in a farmer’s bag to help him do his job and save money while he does it.”
Adavso was the first agricultural company to apply for an exemption, which it filed in July, giving it an edge over companies that will inevitably follow in its steps and apply for their own FAA grants.
While the exemption is under Adavso’s name, the company also partnered with fourth-generation farmer Robert Blair of Kendrick, Idaho, who has been experimenting with unmanned systems on his family farm since 2003. Empire Aerospace Co. of Hayden, Idaho, is the parent company of Adavso, which Edgar described as a start up.
Edgar first started flying planes at 17, going on to join the military and ultimately work with United Airlines Inc. In 2010, he went back on active duty to help the U.S. Air Force and Navy develop a computer-based cockpit for the next generation of UAS.
Edgar noted that while “UAS” is often used interchangeably with “drone,” aviation specialists draw a sharp distinction between the two.
“An unmanned system has a human in the loop constantly,” said Edgar. “There’s always someone at the cockpit.”
As a pilot, Edgar said he appreciates the challenges the FAA faces in safely regulating commercial drone use. But the agriculture industry may be one of the safest places to employ UAS technology, given the low flight path of UAS for crop scouting and that most farms are not in densely populated areas.
While the FAA has slowly granted more exemptions to its ban on commercial drone use, the permitting process can take anywhere from two months to a year, a pace that has garnered criticism from senators who urged the FAA in November 2014 to take action in order to reach its goal of implementing regulation that would allow integration of commercial drones into U.S. airspace by September 2015.
For Edgar, one of just two employees in the Star, Idaho-based company, the exemption grant offers a world of opportunities for farmers seeking to improve business, with an added bonus of the potential to reduce water waste. The company plans to first employ its model in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
“If we can go out and effectively reduce the amount of water because we’ve been over-watering crops, we can reduce power consumption and fertilizer runoff,” said Edgar. “We’re cutting operating costs, and that also increases the yield per acre. It’s a win-win all the way around.”
–Additional reporting by Aebra Coe. Editing by Philip Shea.