FAA issues final drone BVLOS guidelines

18 March 2022
A Wing drone flies in Australia delivering food and goods to customers. The FAA’s guidelines open up the possibilities to expand the reach of BVLOS testing and services for delivery, surveying and reconnaissance. Source: Wing

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has completed its report on what guidelines engineers should follow when developing beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) technology for unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

The UAS-BVLOS Aviation Rules Committee (ARC) within the agency worked in two phases and collaborated with drone makers to develop many recommendations for flying drones to a point where an operator can no longer see the machine.

The ARC developed recommendations that will be consistent across all types of operations and envisions this will allow the FAA to adopt a command consistent set of regulations and guidance.

What is BVLOS?

BVLOS allows drone operators to conduct complex drone operations where the device flies beyond a point where the operator can see it. This could be through a camera attached to the drone or for autonomous flight operations without a pilot.

While some companies are currently testing BVLOS using 4G wireless networks, the advent of 5G, the next-generation wireless technology, may accelerate the development of BVLOS as the technology would allow for intelligent identification and tracking of objects through cloud computing. One such project has already started with Ericsson and Australian telecom Optus with the first teleoperated drone flight.

BVLOS is seen as the next great chapter in drone delivery and drone operations at it will allow these UAS machines to travel further than ever before for both reconnaissance missions for the military or rescue maneuvers and to allow startups to take packages across larger distances to expand last-mile logistics operations.

There are a number of projects that have cropped up exploring BVLOS including one in the U.K. with ANRA, F-drone tests involving maritime deliveries at night and previous testing by the FAA to promote BVLOS technology.

The recommendations

The FAA recommended that the government establish an acceptable level of risk (ALR) for UAS that is consistent with all types of operations being performed.

Also, the group recommended a series of modifications to the right-of-way rules in low altitude shielded areas—to about 100 ft of a structure or critical infrastructure—and in low altitude non-shielded areas at below 400 ft.

Specifically, the ARC recommended that drones:

  • Allow automatic means for see-and-avoid responsibility.
  • Give unmanned aircraft (UA) right of way in shielded areas.
  • Give UA right of way over crewed aircraft that are not equipped with automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) or traffic awareness beacon system (TABS) in non-shielded low altitude areas.
  • Give crewed aircraft that are equipped with ADS-B or TABS right of way in non-shielded low altitude areas.

Additionally, the ARC recommended operator qualification to extend remote pilot certificate with small UAS rating to cover extended visual line of sight (EVLOS) and shielded UAS operations. This will create a new remote pilot certificate to cover BVLOS operations beyond the original coverage.

The fourth recommendation is to establish a new BVLOS rule that includes a process for qualification for UA and UAS applicable to aircraft up to 800,000 pounds per foot of kinetic energy.

Finally, the ARC recommends that the FAA adopt a non-mandatory regulatory scheme for third party services to be used in support of UAS BVLOS operations. The group also identified certain issues that are beyond the ARC’s scope and these recommendations are in the interest of providing a full framework of actions and policies to promote safe and widespread adoption of UAS BVLOS capabilities.

Drone startup's reaction

Drone startup DroneUp said the regulations and guidance will give drone operators the flexibility to meet an acceptable level of risk through qualitative or quantitative methods.

This includes enabling routine BVLOS operations for infrastructure inspections, medical supply and package delivery, public safety missions, wildfire mitigation and agricultural surveying.

"Unlocking BLVOS will have a tremendous impact on the world, opening up opportunities only dreamed about in science fiction,” said John Vernon, DroneUp’s CTO and ARC committee member. “This report's feedback and common-sense proposals represent the best from the technology, aviation, municipal and societal leaders and provide a solid list of recommendations to rule-makers. We are excited to see how these recommendations will shape regulations that will propel this industry forward by providing a clear pathway to BVLOS."

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