July 8, 2021
The FAA recently announced a new Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) to address beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations, in hopes of clearing a critical hurdle to efficient, effective and realistic drone use in agriculture, land surveying, utilities and small package delivery.
The ARC, made up of industry and stakeholder groups, plan to produce a recommendations report by the end of the year.
“Regulations regarding safe BVLOS UAS operations are the next step for ensuring true integration of UAS into the National Airspace System,” said Heidi Williams, NBAA’s director of air traffic and infrastructure. “The FAA brought experts to the table to figure how to take those next steps towards integration by allowing more extensive BVLOS operations.”
Williams pointed to the UAS Integration Pilot Program, plus a number of other test sites around the country, which have allowed the industry to collect data regarding BVLOS operations and demonstrated these operations can be done safely.
Will Lovett of Phoenix Air, a member of NBAA’s Emerging Technologies Committee and an ARC participant, said unmanned aircraft can reduce the number of accidents by helicopters used to inspect public utilities. UAS also provide improved actionable intelligence by using multiple sensors for imagery and LiDAR. Utility providers use the data to triage repairs and replacement of infrastructure, resulting in safe improvements. With new BVLOS regulations, UAS could perform linear infrastructure inspections and other tasks.
“Our flight crews use structured checklists and procedures for all operations,” Lovett said. “We validate and verify our concept of operations through numerous test events prior to any BVLOS flight operation.”
Calvin Rieb, global unmanned systems leader – corporate aircraft at Cargill, also a member of NBAA’s Emerging Technologies Committee, added current regulations haven’t kept up with technology.
Although Part 107, allowing for commercial use of small UAS weighing less than 55 pounds has provided a basic foundation, the regulation has remained practically the same for the past five years. Currently, operators must seek waivers, authorizations or exemptions to these restrictions, resulting in different paths and timelines for each request.
“There are operational and cost efficiencies yet to be realized,” Rieb said. “This ARC is long overdue and the outcome should help operators find those efficiencies.”