NUAIR test environment supports New York Power Authority successful waiver application

The Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR) which manages the New York unmanned test site and 50-mile drone corridor provided the safe environment to conduct test flights and develop the safety case necessary for the New York Power Authority (NYPA) to gain its first federal approval to fly unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) of the pilot in command. In a significant step forward, this Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) waiver enables NYPA to conduct fully remote drone operations such as asset and vegetative management inspections at its Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project in Schoharie County. NYPA’s growing drone program supports its industry-leading asset management strategies and is part of an Authority-wide digitization initiative to modernize grid infrastructure to advance the efficient delivery of clean power statewide, says the NYPA press release.

FAA Part 107 regulations require drone pilots to maintain visual contact while operating a drone. This waiver allows operators to conduct operations without the requirement for the pilot or an observer to see the unmanned aircraft or to scan the surrounding airspace throughout the entire flight. Routes, however, must be pre-planned and the drone must remain within 50 feet above ground level or within 50 feet of structures.

The waiver was obtained with the help of Skydio, a US drone and software manufacturer providing equipment and advisory services. NUAIR provided a safe testing environment and safety case development, conducting test flights and training for NYPA at the New York UAS test site.

The waiver, which is specific to Skydio drones, authorizes operations through 2027 and grants NYPA the capability to conduct remote operations from other locations without an on-site pilot or visual observer. The timing of the waiver dovetails with the launch of a new drone docking technology by Skydio that allows drones to take off and land autonomously from the dock with a pilot directing operations from a remote location.

“This important approval enables NYPA to operate Skydio drones beyond line of sight without visual observers,” said Jenn Player, Skydio’s senior director of Regulatory Affairs. “Skydio autonomy and collision avoidance capabilities are key to conducting these low-altitude, high-value operations safely and easily.”

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