Commercial drone technology is quickly making its way to a field near you.
Last week the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted Trimble Inc. an exemption that will allow the company to conduct commercial operation of its Trimble UX5 Aerial Imaging Solution in the U.S.
The Trimble UX5 is an unmanned fixed-wing aircraft targeted at the surveying, agriculture, oil & gas, mining, construction, environmental industries. The system autonomously captures a series of high-resolution images during flight, which is typically up to 50 minutes covering as much as 2.3 square kilometers (approximately 1 square mile) when flying 120 meters (approximately 400 feet) above the ground.
“In the agriculture market, the FAA exemption moves Trimble one step further with the opportunity to provide a solution for safe and legal UAS operations that can benefit growers, ranchers, water management contractors, agronomists and other ag service providers,” said Joe Denniston, vice president of Trimble’s Agriculture Division.
“High-speed aerial imaging is a powerful tool that can quickly and easily capture aerial images for scouting and monitoring crop health, locating cattle and their available forage over large areas, measuring crop height, and generating topographic maps and models for land leveling and drainage applications. As a result, the system can be a powerful data collection tool that can aid with recommendations to improve farming operations.”
The exemption was granted pursuant to Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which authorizes the FAA to grant exemptions from FAA rules limiting commercial operation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) pending the adoption of permanent rules. Section 333 exemptions are intended to “provide a pathway for civil operators who desire safe and legal entry”1 into the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS).
Using Trimble Business Center Aerial Photogrammetry software, images are used to easily generate 2D and 3D deliverables such as orthomosaic images, three-dimensional point clouds and contour maps. The Trimble UX5 enables the collection of large amounts of data, often faster than traditional surveying or mapping technologies.
“We are pleased to be among the first companies to receive an exemption from the FAA authorizing commercial operation of UAS,” said Erik Arvesen, vice president of Trimble’s Geospatial Division. “This decision reflects Trimble’s efforts to responsibly operate its UAS business in the U.S. while the FAA addresses air safety issues in opening the NAS for commercial UAS operations on a broader scale.
Trimble will continue its efforts to support the FAA’s decision-making process and to provide opportunities for our customers to safely use the UX5 to capture accurate geospatial data for a wide range of applications such as surveying, oil & gas, mining, construction and many more.”
Also included in the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations, exemptions, announced on December 10, were: VDOS Global, LLC, Clayco, Inc. and Woolpert, Inc. (two exemptions).
“Unmanned aircraft offer a tremendous opportunity to spur innovation and economic activity by enabling many businesses to develop better products and services for their customers and the American public,” said Anthony Foxx, U.S. Transportation Secretary .”We want to foster commercial uses of this exciting technology while taking a responsible approach to the safety of America’s airspace.”
Foxx found that the UAS in the proposed operations do not need an FAA-issued certificate of airworthiness because they do not pose a threat to national airspace users or national security. Those findings are permitted under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.
The firms also asked the FAA to grant exemptions from regulations that address general flight rules, pilot certificate requirements, manuals, maintenance and equipment mandates. In their petitions, the firms said they will operate UAS weighing less than 55 pounds and keep the UAS within line of sight at all times.
In granting the exemptions, the FAA considered the operating environments and required certain conditions and limitations to assure the safe operation of these UAS in the National Airspace System. The agency also will issue Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COAs) that mandate flight rules and timely reports of any accident or incidents..
“The FAA’s first priority is the safety of our nation’s aviation system,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “Today’s exemptions are a step toward integrating UAS operations safely.”
As of today, the agency has received 167 requests for exemptions from commercial entities.