Yamaha has been looking to get an exemption to fly its drones in the United States for almost a year, and now it finally can. The FAA has granted it approval to use its drones to spray crops in the U.S.
“We started our petition for exemption under Section 333 back in the summer of last year, so we were maybe fourth in line of all the Section 333’s and it was a little tough to see so many go ahead of us,” said Steve Markofski, spokesman for Yamaha.
The reason the FAA took so long to grant Yamaha permission is because the RMAX differs from almost every other drone, according to Markofski. The RMAX is 207-pound spray applicator.
“We are the only ones that do that, so I knew right there that it was going to be difficult,” he said.
The RMAX has been operating in Japan since 1991, and according to Markofski, it already has more than 2,500 drones in operation and has amassed over 2 million flight hours there.
“We have a lot of history, and ultimately I believe that is what earned us our exemption,” he said. “What this exemption allows us to do now is to begin some commercial business and to begin to prove the effectiveness of the RMAX, which we only have been able to do theoretically up until now.”
Now, farmers in the U.S. can use the RMAX to spray their crops. It flies in low altitude and operates the majority of the time at three meters above the crop, depending on the crop. The benefits of using the RMAX include speed, not having to compact the soil or damage the crops using a tractor, and allowing the operate to keep a safe distance from the chemical being applied.
“In Napa, [California], for example, crops are treated exclusively by tractor, pulling a rig at about 1 mph and covering about an acre an hour, where we can treat anywhere from six to 12 acres an hour with the RMAX,” Markofski said. “And that takes into account our small tanks. Refilling those and getting those back over to the crops, we can still do minimum six acres per hour, so it is still much more efficient.”
In addition, Yamaha has self-imposed limitations and rules, such as not flying the RMAX beyond 150 meters, so it doesn’t need beyond line of sight to spray the crops.
Markofski hopes with this exemption the company will see more acceptance from the agricultural community, and using the RMAX to spray crops will eventually be second nature.
“I do believe it is going to take time, but we are going to see the expansion,” he said. “We are going to start small and prove ourselves. The RMAX is very user-friendly to operate, they have an onboard suite of electronics that take care of the avionics, and it is just a stress-free and fun operation.”