News & Events
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Rising Concerns Over UAV Safety are Impacting the Agriculture Industry
The agricultural industry has become one of the primary users of UAV technology. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are being put to good use by farmers and agricultural scientists alike, but this increased usage has been accompanied by an increase in accidents and property damage. For the pilots of agricultural planes such as crop dusters, the risk is incredibly serious. Ducks and geese routinely hit airplanes and have been known to cause severe damage, injuring pilots and even causing fatal crashes. These animals average about 5-10 lbs., whereas a drone can weigh 50 lbs. More extreme accidents can occur in a drone collision, with more tragic results.
Visual Flight Rules and UAVs
In aviation, there are general rules regarding airplanes or other aerial vehicles and their usage. Among these are the visual flight rules (VRF), which state that when any two airplanes, helicopters, or other types of aerial vehicles are sharing the same airspace, they also share an equal responsibility for staying safe, and watching out for themselves and each other.
In the case of UAVs, however, this rule becomes a problem. UAVs are unmanned, meaning that no person is aboard the device when it’s in use. The GPS navigational system on board the average commercial UAV allows the pilot to steer the device to a great distance and height, but the potential for the UAV to fly out of visual range is very high. In that case, the pilot has no means to see the area around the drone, nor can he see any other vehicles around it. This presents a very dangerous situation, especially in agricultural environments, where both planes and UAVs routinely navigate the airspace within 100 feet of the ground.
Value of Training and Reasoned Regulation
Agricultural pilots are pushing for requirements and regulations that they believe would decrease the risk of accidents between planes and UAVs. Training requirements for commercial drone operators have been minimal, barely equivalent to having a driver’s license, but piloting aircraft and operating in the air are very different from driving. The FAA has proposed making a written certification test a requirement for UAV operators, but a test would not be as comprehensive as completing the education needed to obtain a pilot’s license.
The National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) is pushing for a pilot’s license to be a requirement, as well as being familiar with the federal aviation regulations. They are also considering the possibility of tracking devices being installed on UAVs. Like an ADS-B system (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast system), the tracking device would be able to track the location of the UAV and alert pilots if a UAV enters their airspace. UAVs cannot compete with conventional agricultural aircraft when it comes to treating farms with chemicals, so the issue really is one of safety and not economy.
Insuring Against Liability Issues
The vague requirements for training and regulation have left a door open to liability issues, and the NAAA is understandably concerned about those issues and commercial UAVs. As the safety issues are addressed, the need to protect your drone and your business with specialized insurance is still important. Insurance companies have worked with these organizations, drone developers, and the FAA to develop drone insurance policies that protect you, your aircraft, and your business when an incident or accident occurs.
Advances in technology always are accompanied by risks, and the expansion of drone use throughout the agricultural industry is no exception. As the risk of accidents and encounters between conventional aircraft and commercial UAVs increases, professional organizations and regulators are working to improve safety through training and smart regulations.
Poms & Associates offers an array of business insurance and brokerage services, as well as the most current information on commercial general liability insurance policies and coverage add-ons such as drone insurance. For more details about business insurance basics, and to learn how Poms & Associates can help you assess your risks and select the best drone insurance coverage for you, please visit our website or contact us.
Gabriella Messina is an author who has written online content for a variety of business and insurance related topics, including business insurance basics, workers’ compensation, liability insurance, and malpractice.