Navigating BVLOS Drone Operation

Operating drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) is still illegal in some countries. The technology for BVLOS operation is still unfolding. The possibilities for drones including transporting goods over long distances, inspections and performing search  and rescue duties, means that BVLOS rules need to change to a more permanent set of  regulations. 

The Current Rules 

The current rules are established by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Rule  107.3 requires pilots, observers and flight controllers to maintain visual contact with a  drone throughout its flight. Corrective lenses – glasses or contacts, are the only tools allowed to be used. Once the drone passes out of visual line of sight (VLOS), it is then in violation of the rule. 

The FAA standard says it currently requires VLOS flight so that: 

– The position of the drone must be known at all times, along with altitude, attitude and direction. 

– The crew must be able to keep a watch out for air traffic or other navigation hazards.

– The drone must not pose a danger to people or their property. 

The systems involved in BVLOS missions will have to be up to high standards of technology and precision to make flights possible beyond the pilot’s eyes so the aircraft’s location can be verified at all times as well as detecting possible navigation impediments, and not cause harm. 

Legal Status of BVLOS Flight 

Pilots and companies seeking to use their drones in BVLOS missions are finding the waters difficult to navigate. In most countries BVLOS flights are not approved without a waiver and the process is rough. 

When applying for a Part 107.31 waiver relevant to BVLOS the operators must: 

– Answer a series of questions showing how the pilot will monitor the drone’s position,  altitude, position and movement. In addition he must describe the safeguards in place to ensure the drone says within range of the command link. 

– Applicant must present the methods and technology used to avoid other aircraft in the  airspace.

– The drone must be visually tracked for a distance of 3 miles and pilot must be able to receive an alert of a malfunction 

– There must be plans for GPS tracking and cloud clearance, also a detailed description of the command frequency. 

The FAA established an Aviation Rules Committee with representation from across the drone industry. The FAA hopes this committee will provide a framework to help the agency to move beyond a case-by-case waiver approval to facilitate routine BVLOS uses such as package delivery, precision agriculture operation, infrastructure inspections, industrial aerial data gathering and search and rescue. 

An operator or organization will need to show an understanding of their equipment and that they have the theoretical and technical skills and knowledge to plan and execute a safe mission flight. 

BVLOS Flight Technology 

It must be emphasized that drone safety is the most critical factor in drone missions.  The newest innovations in technology assures smooth, unhindered safe flight.  Technology that provides clear unbroken views and data streaming to the pilot’s controller and headset is what will compensate for BVLOS drone flight. 

This technology includes full HD video, data providing the exact position of the drone,  sensors for 540° obstacle avoidance and a transmission system that provides all of this.  While these systems are in use now with VLOS, they are critical for when pilots are  approved for BVLOS missions. 

BVLOS Drone Flights in the Future 

– Search and Rescue: There is movement beginning for relaxing the regulations for  public safety agencies. Resistance is still there for carte blanche approval because of  the fear of misuse of drones for inappropriate surveillance. 

– Science and Research: Imagine scientists gathering precise data along an earthquake fault line that is 50 miles long. BVLOS drones could move along the  entire fault line collecting data from above. 

When thinking about the future of BVLOS drone flights, it’s as big as the imagination.  The equipment and technology will consistently evolve to meet any need that industry,  agriculture, science and government can identify.  

Take pause and look back to when DJI began in 2006 and notice how far the drone industry has come…wow!

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