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Rules & Regulations

The Drone Certification You’ve Never Heard Of

What you need to know about Part 137

June 15, 2017

In March, the FAA found that 21% of commercial drones were being used for agricultural purposes. And drones can do a lot more for agriculture than just map fields and measure crop yields ― they can also distribute herbicides, plant trees, spray bug repellent … and more.

But you can’t just get a spraying drone and start destroying pesky weeds: There are some additional FAA rules, like Part 137, you must follow. Haven’t heard of Part 137? No worries — here’s the rundown.

What is Part 137?

Part 137 regulations apply to both private and commercial agricultural aircraft, and pilots must become certified in order to operate aircraft that fall under Part 137.

According to the FAA, drones being used for agriculture are required to comply with 14 CFR Part 137, “Agricultural Aircraft Operations.” Remember: The FAA considers drones aircraft.
If you're using a drone to measure the health of your crop, Part 137 doesn't apply to you. However, if you're looking to use a drone as a crop sprayer then you need to become Part 137 certified.
Under Part 137, the FAA defines Agricultural Aircraft Operations as the operation of an aircraft for the purpose of:
  • dispensing any economic poison, which is “(1) any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any insects, rodents, nematodes, fungi, weeds, and other forms of plant or animal life or viruses, except viruses on or in living man or other animals, which the Secretary of Agriculture shall declare to be a pest, and (2) any substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant or desiccant.
  • dispensing any other substance intended for plant nourishment, soil treatment, propagation of plant life, or pest control."
  • engaging in dispensing activities directly affecting agriculture, horticulture, or forest preservation, but not including the dispensing of live insects.
If you’re using a drone for crop monitoring or crop photography then you don’t need to comply with Part 137. However, if your operation falls into the above Agricultural Aircraft Operations, Part 137 certification is necessary.

To break that down into simpler terms, you can’t drop water, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, seeds, or fertilizers from a drone, or any aircraft for that matter, without a Part 137 certification. Learn about how seed dispersal from drones could be beneficial to forests around the world.
Who’s certified?

According to an FAA spokesperson, there are only two Part 137-certified UAS operators: Yamaha and DroneSeed.

Yamaha was the first to receive a Part 137 Agricultural Aircraft Operations Certification from the FAA in December 2015. DroneSeed received its certification in May, and was the first to traverse both Part 107 and Part 137 territory: Yamaha operated under Section 333 before Part 107 was implemented in August 2016.

James Mackler, attorney at The Mackler Law Firm and 2018 U.S. Senate candidate, helped DroneSeed acquire certification from the FAA. He says the process was difficult and complicated, because Part 137 doesn’t include any verbiage specific to drones.

“Anyone doing this in the future needs to have very strong expertise in their field, and be able to demonstrate an unwavering commitment to protecting privacy, personal property, safety, and flight proficiency,” Mackler says.

Public agricultural aircraft, like those flown by government agencies, do not need to acquire Part 137 certification. However, they do need to follow its guidelines. And honestly, that's another story in and of itself.

And remember: This rule applies to both private and commercial agricultural aircraft. Pop quiz: If a private landowner flew a drone as a hobbyist and attached a small sprayer to their drone to kill weeds on their land, would they need to be Part 137 certified?

“The proposed scenario fits the definition of a private operator dispensing an ‘economic poison’ (with an aircraft – manned or unmanned) or any other substance described in 137.3,” according to an FAA spokesperson. “It would be no different than a private individual using a manned aircraft to spray his or her land for weeds.  A certificate is required by current regulations.”
How to get certified

Getting Part 137 certification from the FAA differs somewhat for private and commercial pilots, but the process includes:

1) Submitting a Letter of Intent to the FAA
2) Submitting an application
3) Demonstrating that you have an appropriately equipped aircraft
4) Proving that you (the applicant) can comply with 14 CFR and safe operating practices

You can view the entire Part 137 certification process here.

Part 137 certification isn’t a process that you can just complete from the computer ― you need to visit one of the FAA’s Flight Standards District Offices (FSDO). “You have to sit down with your local FSDO and work with them,” says Christina Engh, COO of UASolutions Group. Find your FSDO here.

It is important to keep in mind that even though someone may receive a Part 137 certification, that person is still subject for approval by state and local authorities and must meet any applicable EPA regulations.
What about Part 107?

If you’re flying a UAV for a business or selling your services, then you need to be both Part 137 and Part 107 certified. Drone360 previously covered all you need to know about the commercial drone rules, which are called Part 107 ― if you need to brush up, that’s perfectly fine.

And get this: Private drone operators need to acquire Part 137 and Part 107 certification.

"A Part 107 remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating would be required to operate because even though the private operator would not be selling his or her services, the operation would still be in furtherance of a commercial enterprise and still would not meet the criteria of part 101, Subpart E — Special Rule for Model Aircraft," according to an FAA spokesperson.

If that wasn't enough, depending on what you’re dispensing from your drone, you may also need a waiver for Part 107.46. This particular section says UAS cannot carry hazardous materials. According to the FAA, this is the most updated hazardous material list ― save yourself some time and just go straight to page 107.

Engh is working with companies looking to acquire Part 137 certification. “This is what the FAA’s told us: ‘Your 137 application will not get approved unless you ask for that 107.46 waiver,” Engh says. “If you’re claiming that you’re not spraying hazmat, they don’t care ― you have to have [a 107.46 waiver].”

Grab a copy of the November/December 2017 issue of Drone360 magazine, which is available Nov. 21, for a more in-depth story about Part 137 and agricultural spraying.
Featured image: pixabay/tpsdave