Rumours that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may relax its restrictions on commercial drones that fly beyond the operator’s type of sight received the state stamp of credibility at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s annual trade show.
Talking with reporters and industry representatives at the function, FAA chief Michael Huerta signaled the agency’s openness to approving beyond visual type of sight (BVLOS) operations and announced several research projects targeted at demonstrating their safety.
The agency will need part in three new studies with industry partners in the months ahead. Two of the projects will be targeted at better characterizing BVLOS operations, demonstrating the technologies underpinning such flights while also establishing safety and performance data the agency can integrate into its rule-making process. Such drone operations are prohibited beneath the commercial drone rules unveiled by the FAA in February and in each one of the so-called Section 333 exemptions the agency has granted to companies on a case-by-case basis authorizing them to fly drones commercially.
The news headlines is a substantial sign from the FAA, which includes been increasingly (yet cautiously) dealing with companies and industry groups to supply drone regulations the industry can live with. BVLOS operations have already been something of a sticking point so far. Industry groups contend that companies can’t fully unlock the true economic benefits drones impart-or contend with more permissive regulatory environments overseas-without the opportunity to operate beyond visual type of sight. The Air Line Pilots Association currently opposes such operations, deeming them unnecessarily risky.
During the past, Amazon has been particularly vocal in its support of integrating BVLOS operations in to the FAA’s general commercial drone rules. A patent application published April 30 details the company’s plans for drone delivery, which would require operators-and eventually autonomous piloting software-to dispatch drones over long distances to deposit parcels.
However the studies and partners selected by the FAA are indicative of the a lot more realistic-and arguably more important-impact drones could have on the industry in the near term. The FAA has granted North Carolina-based PrecisionHawk, a manufacturer of fixed-wing platforms, permission to conduct research on BVLOS precision agriculture operations. BNSF railroad will research techniques BVLOS drone use can enhance the way the transportation giant inspects and manages its rail infrastructure and rolling stock. (A third research study allows CNN to explore news-gathering methods but won’t explore BVLOS operations.)
Such applications-such as infrastructure inspection, precision agriculture and wide-area surveillance-are the true, or at least immediate, future of commercial BVLOS drones. The industry remains worried that if the FAA does not start its skies to BLVOS commercial opportunities, U.S. companies could possibly be left out.
“BVLOS technology has recently matured to the idea that BVLOS operations are actually permitted in a few other countries like the Czech Republic, France, Poland, Sweden and Norway where BVLOS operations have already been conducted for a long time with high degrees of safety,” the tiny UAV Coalition, a business lobby backed by such companies as Google, Amazon, and PrecisionHawk wrote in a recently available letter to FAA Administrator Huerta.
These research partnerships don’t include any funding from the FAA, however they do allow PrecisionHawk and BNSF Railroad to assemble data and persuade the FAA that BVLOS operations could be conducted safely and with techniques that impart a meaningful economic impact.
If indeed they can do so, legal BVLOS operations might not be up to now in following. “We anticipate receiving valuable data from each one of these trials that you could end up FAA-approved operations within the next couple of years,” Huerta said in his address at AUVSI, that is a far cry from the hard “no” companies received from the FAA until