Pyka, a manufacturer of large-scale highly-automated electric aircraft for crop protection and cargo transport, has received official approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the commercial operation of its zero-emission highly-automated Pelican Spray aircraft for crop protection throughout the United States. With a gross weight of 1,125 lbs, Pyka's highly-automated uncrewed aircraft system (UAS) now holds the distinction of being the largest drone ever to receive FAA authorization for commercial operation in the country.
Following this eagerly-awaited FAA approval, Pyka is now eligible to conduct commercial operations across the United States, offering safety, environmental, and economic benefits to American farmers and the public. The approval comes at a time when the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has reported 54 aircraft accidents related to agricultural operations, including 12 fatal accidents resulting in 13 deaths in 2020. The FAA's decision to authorize Pyka's operations reflects its interest in supporting larger and more advanced agricultural UA operations, with the hope of reducing accidents and bolstering the American drone market.
Pyka's fixed-wing, highly-automated all-electric aerial application technology promises to provide American farmers and neighboring agricultural communities with a safer alternative to piloted spray aircraft. The technology is expected to improve spray precision, reduce chemical usage costs, and minimize environmental impact. Already operational in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Brazil, Pyka's Pelican Spray aircraft has been recognized as the world's largest and most productive agricultural spray drone, boasting the capability to carry up to 540 lbs (70 gallons) of liquid and spray up to 240 acres per hour.
Michael Norcia, Chief Executive Officer of Pyka, expressed his satisfaction with the commercial approval and regulatory milestone, emphasizing the potential value that Pyka's aircraft can offer to growers in the U.S., Latin America, and other markets. While the FAA's approval allows Pyka to commence commercial operations, the company also hopes to use it as a stepping stone towards expanding uncrewed cargo operations worldwide.
Industry experts, including Lisa Ellman, Partner and Chair of Hogan Lovells’ Uncrewed Aircraft System Practice, have acknowledged the significance of this development. Ellman cited the safety and environmental benefits that highly-automated UAS like the Pelican could bring to the aerial agricultural spraying industry, potentially reducing the number of pilot fatalities.
With FAA approval in hand, Pyka is now poised to deliver its highly-automated electric drone technology to the U.S. agricultural sector, but it remains to be seen how the technology will perform in practical application and whether it will live up to its promises of safety and efficiency.