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Idaho company is first to receive federal permit to use drones to monitor crops

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 6, 2015

FILE - In this May 8, 2014 file photo, a Parrot Bebop drone flies during a demonstration event in San Francisco. The government is issuing the first two permits to agriculture and real estate companies to monitor crops and photograph properties for sale. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) exemptions to the current ban on commercial drone flights were granted to Advanced Aviation Solutions in Spokane, Washington, for monitoring crops, and to Douglas Trudeau of Tierra Antigua Realty in Tucson, Arizona.  (Jeff Chiu / AP Photo, File)
FILE - In this May 8, 2014 file photo, a Parrot Bebop drone flies during a demonstration event in San Francisco. The government is issuing the first two permits to agriculture and real estate companies to monitor crops and photograph properties for sale. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) exemptions to the current ban on commercial drone flights were granted to Advanced Aviation Solutions in Spokane, Washington, for monitoring crops, and to Douglas Trudeau of Tierra Antigua Realty in Tucson, Arizona. (Jeff Chiu / AP Photo, File)
By JOAN LOWY Associated Press

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story from The Associated Press gave an incorrect location for Advanced Aviation Solutions. The company is based in Star, Idaho.

WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday issued permits to use drones to monitor crops and photograph properties for sale, marking the first time permission has been granted to companies involved agriculture and real estate.

The exemptions to the current ban on commercial drone flights were granted to Advanced Aviation Solutions in Star, Idaho, for “crop scouting,” and to Douglas Trudeau of Tierra Antigua Realty in Tucson, Arizona.

Advanced Aviation Solutions plans to use its 1.5-pound, fixed-wing eBee drone to make photographic measurements of farm fields, determine the health of crops and look for pests. The aim is to save farmers time walking through fields. The drone also can carry sensors that pick up information invisible to the naked eye, which can help determine which fields need watering.

Application for the permit was filed by the company’s vice president, who is based in Spokane.

Trudeau’s exemption authorizes him to fly a Phantom 2 Vision+ quadcopter to “enhance academic community awareness and augment real estate listing videos,” the FAA said.

Real estate companies have been eager to gain permission to use drones to photograph and make videos of pricey properties.

The permits require that drone operations include both a ground “pilot” and an observer, that the pilot have at least an FAA private pilot certificate and a current medical certificate, and that the drone remains within line of sight of the operator at all times.

Before these approvals, the FAA had granted 12 exemptions to 11 companies in the oil and gas, filmmaking and landfill industries.

As of today, the FAA has received 214 requests for exemptions from commercial entities.

The agency is under pressure from Congress, the drone industry and companies that want to use drones to provide broader access to U.S. skies. FAA officials had said they hoped to propose regulations to permit general commercial use of small drones by the end of 2014, but that deadline has slipped.

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