Inside the FAA’s Draft BVLOS Rule—All the Questions the FAA Needs Your Help Answering

BY Zacc Dukowitz
7 June 2023

Want to shape the future of the drone industry?

The FAA is currently seeking input from the public to help guide its rulemaking for BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) operations.

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Specifically, the FAA wants public comments that address how advances in technology, standards, and operational strategies can be leveraged for BVLOS while maintaining safe operations.

The draft rule asks for input in seven key areas, asking questions related to each one.

Comments close June 14.

Why Does This Matter?

Simply put, expanded BVLOS operations will make for a healthier drone industry.

If the new rule enables BVLOS at scale we’ll see even more new use cases and even more growth in drone adoption for a variety of commercial applications.

And gathering input from the public is an important step toward creating a final rule that will allow more people to fly drones BVLOS than ever before.

Unlocking BVLOS operations promises to open up new types of commercial use cases for drones, including:

  • Long range inspection and monitoring with drone-in-a-box solutions
  • Long-range mapping
  • Forestry surveys
  • Search and rescue missions
  • Drone as First Responder (DFR) programs

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Currently, flying BVLOS is prohibited by the FAA’s Part 107 rules for commercial drone operations.

There are two ways to get out of this prohibition and get permission to fly BVLOS:

  • The first way is to get a waiver, which requires a lengthy, often expensive process.
  • The second way is to get a Part 135 certificate to operate a small airline. This approach is only open for drone delivery companies, and it’s much more lengthy and expensive than the waiver process. To date, only four companies have secured Part 135 certificates, and they all have deep pockets (the companies are Wing, UPS Flight Forward, Amazon Prime, and Zipline).

Both of these ways to get approval to fly BVLOS are expensive and involved, creating a high enough barrier for entry that only those with big budgets and the time to wait can secure permission.

The good news is that the FAA knows how important BVLOS is, and is actively working to open it up. In fact, it even says so in the new draft rule:

The FAA recognizes BVLOS operations provide significant safety, societal, and economic advantages and benefits.

FAA draft BVLOS rule

In fact, the FAA has been testing BVLOS for years.

The first tests were conducted through the FAA’s Pathfinder Program, with partners like BNSF Railway using drones to inspect hundreds of miles of its train tracks.

That program was followed by the UAS IPP, which had even more BVLOS testing. One notable outcome of the IPP testing was that the City of Chula Vista’s police department secured approval to fly drones BVLOS in the first ever Drone as First Responder Program, creating a model now being followed by other police departments throughout the country.

And after the IPP ended, the FAA launched the still-active BEYOND program to continue its testing.

While previous programs had BVLOS as one focus among many for testing, the BEYOND program is so targeted on BVLOS that it’s literally named after it (as in, Beyond Visual Line of Sight).

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Here’s Where the FAA Needs Your Help

Safety is the top concern for enabling BVLOS flights.

Since a pilot can’t see the drone while it’s flying during a BVLOS flight, the drone must have a more robust system for avoiding collisions with other crewed and uncrewed aircraft.

And these considerations are clear in the questions the FAA is asking in the new BVLOS draft rule.

Here are the seven areas in which the FAA is seeking guidance:

  • Detect and Avoid Systems Performance Standards
  • Declarations of Compliance for Detect and Avoid—should the FAA allow
  • Well-Clear Boundary—refers to maintaining a boundary between a drone and a crewed aircraft
  • DAA Systems That Include Third-Party Services/Associated Elements (AE)
  • Use of UTM Services for Strategic Deconfliction
  • Detect and Avoid Between Unmanned Aircraft
  • Beyond Visual Line of Sight Shielded Operations—a shielded area is “a volume of airspace that includes 100′ above the vertical extent of an obstacle or critical infrastructure and is within 100 feet of the lateral extent of the same obstacle or critical infrastructure as defined in 42 U.S.C. 5195(c).”

In each of these sections, the FAA has specific questions listed to help it gather more information on the subject in question.

Know something about any of these?

Read through the FAA’s questions in the rule, then share your knowledge by commenting on the rule.

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