The Assembly has been advancing a measure to modernize the training process for drone applicators.
AB 1016 would authorize the Department of Pesticide Regulation to establish a training program for unmanned aerial systems. The bill, sponsored by the California Farm Bureau, has gained broad bipartisan support from two committees.
According to Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, drone applicators must train alongside fixed-wing pilots to get a license—with just nine drone licenses issued to date. His bill would allow federally licensed drone pilots to take the DPR credentialling program. The Los Angeles Democrat reasoned that allowing for more drones would protect workers from potential exposure and save pesticide, water and fuel costs as well as their impacts.
San Diego farmer Al Stehly has purchased a $20,000 drone and gathered two of three federal licenses. But the most difficult hurdle, he said, is the outdated apprenticeship and journeyman process for obtaining a license in California. Stehly testified that drones would replace backpack misters but not other aerial applicators, since drones can fill in where planes and helicopters are impractical or costly.