“Levi has worked for his family’s logging company in Seeley Lake for about 11 years and, in a lot of these logging jobs, the logger has to go in and seed afterwards. He was looking at a logging magazine and noticed that people were starting to seed with drones so he thought it was a good opportunity to get into something like this, make the seeding process way easier and way faster. Initially, it was just for their own logging company, and that’s how the idea started.”

“Pretty quickly after that, he talked to his cousin David Cahoon who has flown drones, had his own drones for years and years and years. Levi called him, talked to him, they came up with the business plan together, and purchased their first drone.”

“Initially, they were just going to seed, but the seeding seasons are short. So, they were exploring other options as far as what we could do with drones to make money during the off season. They talked about starting to spray weeds with them, and that’s where the problem started because the spraying of weeds brings it into a whole other category of stipulations with the FAA. That’s really where we started finding the problem as far as just getting the approval from the FAA. Our business started May 8 of 2020. It’s been almost a year and a half now, and we still have no indication on when it’s going to get approved.”

“David has done a large part of the FAA process, he’s put in for an exemption. We understand we’re a little fish in a very large sea and we’re competing with planes. Drones have their own niche, but that doesn’t apply to spraying chemicals. Then, they get lumped in with planes and helicopters, so we knew that it might be hard, but we didn’t think it’d be quite this hard.”

“The problem is, legally, drones can only carry up to 55 pounds. So, seeding is not necessarily a problem, because it’s under that weight. When you start filling it with water and chemical, you exceed that 55 pound limit. That is really where the problem lies, and that’s what we’ve been waiting on.”

“We got a letter from the FAA in May that said, ‘Unfortunately, we are unable to process your application due to resource considerations. We are placing your application on a waitlist and your certification is assigned the following track. We will contact you and resources are available.’ I feel like, ‘Oh, when is that? When the resources are available, like what’s the timeline after that?’”

“Our last letter was, I believe, late July. It’s literally the same exact letter that says, ‘Unfortunately, at this time, we don’t have resources to do your application.’”

“We get it, we started May 8 of 2020, during COVID. It was not an ideal time for anybody to be starting a business. Things got shut down, we understood that the FAA was no exception to that. That’s probably part of the reason that it has been taking so long, and we understood that. We were fine with that but, going into a year later, we’re ready to get this thing put to work.”

“It got to a point where we couldn’t afford to pay for these drones. Obviously, that’s an investment, you pay for the insurance, paying for all of these things without actually working. You can’t go against what the government is telling you, ‘You can’t spray, you can’t fly, you can’t do these things.’ We would seed and try to do the things that we could to get by, but it just got to a point where we have to sell because we cannot keep going without getting approved.”

“It’s just been really unfortunate, because we had a really great entrepreneurial idea. It’s very new; it’s very innovative. There are so many different avenues as far as what you can do with it—you can farm with it, you can seed with it, you can weed spray with it, realtors can use them, there are just so many avenues, so many options. It was bittersweet for us when we realized we just have to sell, because we really do believe that it can make money and be a great company. So, we are actually in the process of selling and have somebody that’s interested in it.”

“I just feel like it is so unfortunate; I feel discouraged. Montana is such a great state and I think that these drones can play a huge part with the work that they can do. I think it’s such a hindrance to us developing in other avenues. There is a specific niche for drones. We never went into it thinking we can get as much done as a helicopter, but also we felt like we can help these backpack sprayers by being able to do harder terrain that maybe they can’t get to. So, we really felt there’s just this niche right in the middle that we could hit and we thought that would be so great for Montana and so many different areas. We were so excited to be able to do something a little bit newer, a little innovative, maybe something people really haven’t seen much of. Then, it’s just so discouraging not to be able to do what you had intended your business to do because of not being able to get through the process that we needed to get through.”

“It just feels like nobody can do anything to push your stuff. They can’t get through, they don’t know when they’re gonna get through. Maybe it could be a state thing? Maybe it could be something that the state deals with? I don’t know.”

“It’s frustrating not having a clue. There’s that false sense of hope, too. Like, ‘Oh, in six months, you’ll have your stuff,’ and so you plan on six months, and then it doesn’t come through and then it’s another six months. I would rather hear, ‘We’re not going to have your stuff done for two years. So, if you can’t make it, that’s just how it is, but this is when you’ll get it.’ That was frustrating. I absolutely think that, with our expectations being that six month mark, it was more discouraging than it would had been if it had just been honest. Just say, ‘We’re not going to get to it for two years.’”

“It was so fun in some aspects, and so discouraging in others, but it’s been an adventure, and I wouldn’t take it back.”

“We truly believe that it’s an amazing company. We truly believe that this person that we’re hoping to take over, will do it and do an awesome job. So, we’re still hopeful, but just wishing it could have been maybe a little different for us and better, hopefully, for the next person.”

Levi & Brianne Cahoon
Cahoon Aerial Systems
Seeley Lake, MT