Manned agricultural aviation—crop dusting, essentially—is about to die as a profession. The industry is going down kicking and screaming, spending thousands lobbying against drones and filing court briefs trying to keep unmanned aircraft in a legal grey area.
As we mentioned in December, it has become clear that drones are going to revolutionize agriculture—the only question is when the Federal Aviation Administration is going to allow it to. Crop duster airplanes are extremely dangerous, expensive, and are completely replaceable by drones. It’s already happened in Japan, where just five percent of the nation’s farmland is sprayed with manned aircraft—the rest is sprayed with unmanned helicopters and drones.
In the US, the situation is different, but it won’t be for long, and the roughly 2,800 Americans who fly crop-dusting airplanes know it. The National Agricultural Aviation Administration spent $106,000 last year lobbying against drones in Congress. It was also the only entity to side with the FAA in its ongoing court battle with a commercial drone operator, suggesting that the National Transportation Safety Board judge was too hasty to make a precedent-setting decision about commercial drone use.
“I can tell you we have enough difficulties hitting other airplanes without hitting a 10- or 15-inch sphere that doesn’t announce itself,” Alan Armstrong, the Georgia-based lawyer representing the NAAA in that case, told me. “If it hits my propeller over a congested area, I could be dead.”
He’s right, and he and the NAAA are of the opinion that drones need the ability to see and avoid agricultural pilots in order to make sure a drone doesn’t crash into a crop duster. The problem with that argument is the fact that there aren’t going to be any agricultural pilots for drones to crash into, not if farmers have any common sense. Drones are cheaper, safer, and more precise than manned airplanes. Why would they hire a gas-guzzling, unsafe airplane to do work that a robot can do?
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com