Aug. 21, 2023

FAA restrictions on UAS operations beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) continue to be a significant hurdle in wide-scale, effective UAS use in public utility, cargo delivery and other applications. However, recent agency actions indicate forward progress in this area.

“We are experiencing – for the first time in several years – an era in which the FAA is trying to find ways to authorize BVLOS operations that are outside the box,” said Heidi Williams, NBAA’s senior director, air traffic services and infrastructure. “Discussions at the recent drone symposium really showed an attitude of ‘let’s get to yes,’ even while industry waits for BVLOS regulations to be codified.”

Williams said the recent authorization for Influential Drones, an aerial services, training and consulting company in Marlton, NJ. to conduct UAS operations beyond visual line of sight without the need to see the unmanned aircraft throughout the duration of the mission is clear demonstration of that new thinking.

This authorization allows the company to launch a drone around critical infrastructure and remotely from a box in the U.S. They must post a NOTAM and when launching from a box, they must fly a predefined route from the launch site to the destination of the infrastructure to be inspected.

Dave Krause, president of Influential Drones, shared his insight from the authorization process and offers tips for others looking for the same allowances.

1. Be diligent and dedicated.

Influential Drones applied five times for BVLOS before receiving the authorization, in large part the result of not being sure how to communicate to the FAA something that had never been done before in an acceptable way.

“The FAA’s DroneZone system is a text-based system on the cloud,” said Krause. “You can submit supporting attachments, but you have to explain clearly in unformatted text what you want to do. Later, the FAA published an instructional waiver document for guidance. That helped a bit.”

2. Lay the groundwork.

Influential Drones obtained a Part 137 certification for agricultural operations in 2020.

“The Part 137 certification process was our first opportunity to let the FAA put us under a microscope,” said Krause. That process gave both parties an understanding of each other.

3. Be committed to safety.

Influential Drones is a volunteer industry member with the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam). All staff members are DronePros, FAASTeam volunteers who work closely with the FAA to promote safety in their local area. Krause is a lead representative for the Philadelphia FSDO.

“The FAAST program is a way to give back to the community, keep ourselves current and create a safety culture mindset in the office,” said Krause. “It also helps us maintain focus and discipline. Safety must be first, second and third to fly BVLOS.”

4. Plan for incremental progress.

Krause recognizes the recent authorization as a step in the right direction, but is already planning for even more advancements.

“We believe the FAA is slowly pushing the envelope a bit more,” said Krause. “But with that comes great responsibility. We must be safety conscious, work together and share the skies to keep this industry moving forward towards BVLOS operations.”