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Water Today Title October 25, 2021

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Update 2019/4/16
Drones - Agriculture

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By Gillian Ward

Water Today attended ground school last month, getting hands-on with Transport Canada's new rules for drones, taking effect June 1, 2019.

Markus Weber of Landview Drones provided the training course, accommodating fifteen students from various applied agriculture settings. LandView has been working with drone technology to enhance day to day farm management, flying field mapping missions as part of an agronomy consulting service.

Weber and his teaching associate, Robin, delivered two full days of instruction, including classroom time and field training in hands-on, remote-controlled flight. All attendees successfully obtained a Basic RPAS Operator's License, which allows for operation of small (250g to 25 kg) flight gear, in uncontrolled airspace (G Class), as long as the operator maintains visual contact with the drone and stays at or below 400 ft above ground level.

Transport Canada has established new minimum basic requirements applying to all drone operators, including responsibility to maintain and inspect your flight equipment and power supplies, keeping maintenance and flight logs, having a flight plan and crew briefing, ensuring adequate power supply for the mission, ensuring operations take place inside a safe perimeter, well away from people and airports.

The new regulations, effective June 1, pertain to anyone operating a drone, whether intentionally, for commercial purposes, or incidentally, in a recreational setting. Lifting a remote piloted aerial system (RPAS) , drone, up off the ground and taking up space above people and property may be exhilarating, but make no mistake, it is risky business, the consequences of which are not always considered until the worst happens.

While liability insurance is not required by the new law, the liability remains, if your flying wonder drops from the sky, you are most certainly responsible for what becomes damaged in the process. It is up to each operator if they prefer to pay the insurance premium now or the damages later, as equipment does fail on occasion.

Recreational fliers will experience the most significant increase in responsibility with the new licensing requirements, while existing commercial operators will likely experience a streamlining and simplification of their requirements.

Many drone applications in agricultural can be performed with the Basic license, the terms of which will soon allow for fourteen year old pilots. Previously, pilots had to be at least eighteen years of age, but why not open the skies to fourteen year olds? These kids seem to have been born with a joystick controller in each hand and the ability to relate in first person through an avatar without missing a stride. First-person-view goggles are now permitted for drone pilots, as long as the operation has a visual observer on the crew that is completely devoted to watching the drone. The visual observer may only watch one drone at a time, and may not operate a motor vehicle or power boat while doing so.

The new regulations taking effect June 1 do not require a ground crew for drone operations, however, if there are crew members assisting with the flight, they must be briefed and trained for the specific operation and may not have consumed alcohol within 12 hours. The RPAS pilot must be able to maintain constant contact and have the ability to communicate immediately with crew members.

Basic licensees may operate their small RPAS units 400 ft closer to the public than previous rules permitted, as long as 100 ft horizontal distance remains between the drone and the public. The 100ft rule also pertains to public roadways, which may not be flown over. It is important that the drone pilot has permission to take off and land on private land, and while it is acceptable to fly over private property without consent, LandView holds the position that asking permission is always the best policy.

Where all licensed commercial drone operators have been working with Transport Canada under a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) up to now, the Advanced License will apply after June 1. Operators wishing to acquire an Advanced license must attend another full day of training and perform a flight test observed by a certified flight examiner. Any operations outside of the basic parameters require the Advanced license, including flight beyond visual line of sight, operations taking place inside controlled airspace, flying with craft and payload over 25kg, or flight operations performed above 400 ft. In addition to the Advanced License, the advanced operations require advanced flight gear, declared as such by the manufacturer. Advanced Licensing is available to sixteen year old pilots; those with video gaming experience may find that the hours spent gaming in a team setting may just translate to a career with excellent income potential.

Anyone considering operating a drone should consult directly with Transport Canada for full details, to select the licensing path that suits their specific needs and plans.

Landview will train anyone to operate a drone safely within the new regulatory framework, but agriculture applications are the focus. Mr. Weber delivered a list of 101 ways to employ drones in agriculture, including field mapping, near differential vegetative index (NDVI) analysis for crop health, checking for equipment malfunction, checking on livestock, monitoring fence lines, assessing crop damage and so much more.

These on-farm functions rely on the capacity of the flight equipment and power supplies, the software that manages the flight, the sensors and storage capacity to collect the data, and the software that "stitches" the raw data together into a valuable field map for the active farm manager.

The bird's eye view is not the only advantage offered by drone technology. Multi-spectral sensors with infrared and near infrared give the operator the ability to see beyond the visible light spectrum. Flying insect pests see the infrared light spectrum, recognizing an unhealthy crop from considerable distance. With the ability to detect crop distress, the farmer can react quickly and apply a top dressing or foliar fertilizer, possibly warding off a pest invasion before it begins.

At the end of the day, the drone is an extension of the operator's own perspective. Weber explained, "The perfect place for a remote controller is in the hands of the grower or agronomist, because they can immediately interpret aerial views using their knowledge of a field."

If the operator doesn't know canola stubble from cannabis, or heat damage from Bertha worms, a drone may not be much of an advantage for farm management. In the meantime, having a drone on the farm is sure to get you a smashing family portrait, an aerial view of the home yard or a great vanity shot of your harvest fleet at sunset, all perfectly legitimate reasons to get licensed to operate this season.


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