Commercial “Drone Swarm” Exemption Approved


The FAA has allowed a Texas drone company an exemption that will allow the commercial use of drone swarms in agriculture. Hylio asked for the exemption to help it make drone aerial application economically viable. Under drone rules, a commercial drone has to have a remote pilot and spotter, but the exemption allows the same crew to run as many as three drones at once and spray almost as quickly as a tractor can. Each drone carries 15 gallons of spray and the downwash from the eight rotors ensures good coverage. Proprietary software allows them to operate autonomously and fly a variety of patterns.

At about $80,000 each, the drones are much less expensive than the large tractors used in industrial farming operations, use a fraction of the energy and don’t compact the soil. Of course Hylio is already looking at other uses for the tripled-up drones. As individual aircraft, the drones have been used for everything from seeding wildfire areas to seeding pods with clams for aquatic farmers and are expected to bring similar efficiencies.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


    • If Tennessee allows aerial crop spraying by plane, then this might actually be an improvement. Better application with less overspray and less hazard to pilots and ground persons. But then, we are talking about legislators that probably wouldn’t know a crop duster from a stealth fighter. 🙄

  1. Hopefully Hylio is using better technology than the operators who are using smaller drones but larger swarms that tend to have ‘run aways’.

    • Same question applies to conventional crop dusting or to equipment operating (remember, farming is very hazardous occupation).

      But the follow-up question is: What are the consequences of something going wrong? Remember, we’re in the middle of a corn field, not in a city park.

  2. Imagine someone out for a drive on a quiet country road, when a drone swarm approaches at high speed and low level. As it stops and reverses course at the last minute, does the driver:

    a) have an accident.
    b) have the OTHER kind of accident.
    c) have a really bad flashback to that 1969 acid.
    d) all of the above.

    • Or:

      e) launch his ground to air missiles, obliterating the swarm.

      You launch your fantasies (an aerial crop dusting swarm deciding to go rogue and blasting down a country lane); I’ll launch mine. Two to one, I’l l win.