FAA approves first commercial BVLOS operations in low level airspace by four drone operators

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved commercial beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations for four companies: Phoenix Air Unmanned, uAvionix, UPS Flight Forward and Zipline, to conduct drone operations at 400ft or below, following a request for public input in June.

The authorization allows these operations below 400 feet altitude over certain roads and sparsely populated areas below pre-planned flight paths. Data collected from these operations will inform the FAA’s ongoing policy and rulemaking activities.

“This first ever issued civil BVLOS approval for a helicopter of that size in the US is going to unlock that market for commercial operations, particularly in the domain of long-range critical infrastructure inspections,” Ulrich Amberg, CEO, SwissDrones – the OEM supplying Phoenix Air Unmanned with its SDO 50 V2 aircraft told Revolution.AeroWhilst this does mean we are set for growth in the large drone sector, especially in critical infrastructure inspection, it is not that simple,” explained Amberg. “It is not the same as manned aviation, where you have either type certification, then you’re rubber-stamped to do whatever you want with that aircraft, or no flight approval at all.”

The approval issued by the FAA for is an exemption under the FAA’s Part 91 rules. Not unfortunately part of a systematic framework as seen in Europe and many other countries around the world,” he added.

The FAA’s long-term goal is to safely integrate drones into the National Airspace System rather than set aside separate airspace exclusively for drones. This approach is consistent with the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016. The 2016 Act directed the FAA, in conjunction with NASA, to continue developing a plan for Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM), which will assist in integration efforts.

“With large drones it is a staggered approach, the EASA drone framework includes an operational risk assessment methodology (SORA) to allow for certain flight missions to be approved without a need for certification of the UAV. That assessment delivers an outcome which tells you at which risk level you are approvable through a combination of your capability as an operator combined with the technical features of the aircraft,” says the report.

(Image: Shutterstock)

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