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Chula Vista Police Dept. Receives First COA with Provision to Fly Beyond Visual Line of Sight Granted to a Public Safety Organization

BY Isabella Lee
27 March 2019

The FAA has granted a Certificate of Authorization (COA) to the Chula Vista Police Department (CVPD) to operate its drones beyond visual line of sight over a nearly 40-square-mile area within its jurisdiction.

Chula Vista Police Dept

Source: CVPD Twitter

This is the first active emergency response COA with a beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) provision for public safety.

The COA went into effect March 15, 2019 and will increase the total footprint of coverage for emergency response operations. Compared to the current regulation, which prevents the drone from being flown beyond the pilot-in-command’s line of sight, CVPD will now be able to operate drones up to three nautical miles from the PIC (more than 10 times their previous coverage area).

How the Chula Vista Police Department Launched a Successful Drone Program

CVPD activated its Drone Program in the summer of 2017 after over a year of preparation. Prior to activating the program, the CVPD formed the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Committee to study the use of drones in public safety operations.

Additionally, CVPD gave the local community opportunity to express concerns or share feedback about their plans to implement a UAS policy within the department. These discussions took place through media, public forums, and posted information about the project on the CVPD website, to which the public was encouraged to respond via comment, phone, email, or other means of contact.

This early inclusion of the community and exhaustive research resulted in a successful police drone program that is well received by the Chula Vista community. Since the launch of the program, CVPD drones have conducted more than 300 flights, accounting for more than 80 hours of flight time without incident or accident, and have contributed to more than 40 arrests. Additionally, CVPD recently received the California Police Chief’s Association’s 2019 Excellence in Technology Innovation Award for the department’s ground-breaking work in drone use.

Chula Vista Police Dept Drone Program

Source: Chula Vista Police Department Facebook

All CVPD UAS Team members are required to maintain an FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate and train regularly in a variety of locations and settings to ensure operational efficiency. In the video below, the CVPD demonstrates how drones can be used in a simulated ‘possible active shooter’ call-for-service.

CVPD Active Shooter Demo - 2 minute

How CVPD Became the First Public Safety Organization to Receive a COA with BVLOS Provision

To obtain a COA, the CVPD had to submit an application through the UAS COA Online System. After a complete application is submitted, the FAA conducts a comprehensive operational and technical review. If necessary, provisions or limitations may be imposed as part of the approval to ensure the UAS can operate safely with other airspace users.

A number of partnerships contributed to CVPD’s successful application, including partnerships with Skyfire Consulting, the City of San Diego, and CAPE.

CVPD’s Partnership with Skyfire Consulting

Skyfire Consulting is a premier public safety UAV consulting company, specializing in drone sales, pilot training, FAA consulting, SOP development, and service and repairs for public safety agencies around the country.

Working on behalf of CVPD with the support of the City of San Diego, and in partnership with CAPE, Skyfire authored an extensive safety and risk mitigation analysis. The analysis was a major component of the FAA approval for the COA.

“This authorization truly pushes the boundaries of what’s possible for public safety agencies with drones,” said Ben Kroll, Skyfire’s COO, and lead on the Chula Vista project. “It wouldn’t have been possible without the immense support of the FAA’s IPP team and our very dedicated and patient partners at CVPD, CAPE, and the City of San Diego.”

CVPD’s Partnership with the City of San Diego and CAPE

In 2018, the City of San Diego was selected to participate in the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP). As a participant in the UAS IPP, the City of San Diego agreed to test public safety drone operations and to share the data collected with the FAA. That data would be used to improve UAS specific ID & Tracking systems, necessary for UAS integration into the National Airspace System.

To execute the test flights, the City of San Diego, CVPD, and CAPE (a private drone software company) created the Drones as First Responder (DFR) System. Through DFR, drones are integrated into daily emergency response operations.

As part of the UAS IPP, CVPD has been deploying drones from the rooftop of the Police Department Headquarters to 911 calls and other reports of emergency incidents such as crimes in progress, fires, traffic accidents, and reports of dangerous subjects. The drone’s onboard camera live streams HD video to the teleoperator in the command center, who can maneuver the drone and the camera remotely in real-time in order to gain the exact visibility needed.

How the Chula Vista Police Department’s COA Differs from a Part 107 Waiver

Police departments can fly UAVs to support specific missions, such as search and rescue, under either the FAA’s Part 107 rule or by obtaining a COA. Having both Part 107-certified officers and a COA gives the CVPD greater flexibility in their operations.

With a COA, police departments can routinely fly within certain regions of controlled airspace, while Part 107 operators are required to obtain permission for each flight through LAANC.

Additionally, the COA recently granted to the CVPD includes a special provision for flying BVLOS, which would otherwise be prohibited under the Part 107 rules without a waiver.

Another benefit of having a COA is that the CVPD can apply for additional emergency COAs through the FAA’s Special Governmental Interest, or SGI, process. This allows the CVPD to bypass the 90-day waiting period for decisions on Part 107 waivers and airspace authorizations.

Learn more about the differences between operating under a public COA vs. a Part 107 certificate.

Envisioning the Future of Drones in Public Safety

With the drone typically arriving on the scene well before responding ground units, police departments can better identify and dispatch needed resources to the scene. Responding officers can also view the live stream en route to the scene on their mobile devices, giving them full visibility of the situation to which they are responding. The recently awarded COA provides the CVPD with full ability to conduct these types of drone operations.

This COA is a recognition of the vision our industry has been striving for, to allow drones to arrive on scene before we put law enforcement officers and firefighters in harm’s way.

—Ben Kroll, Skyfire’s COO

Chula Vista Police Officers have access to information that most other public safety agencies don’t—aerial intelligence about what exactly they are responding to before they arrive. The additional information drones provide is invaluable to police officers operating in high-stakes situations. Imagine the value of knowing the direction a fleeing suspect is headed or being able to know the exact vehicles involved in a car accident before arriving on the scene. Typically, these types of observations can’t be obtained until the officers reach the scene or until manned air support is called in.

Share your thoughts on CVPD’s recently awarded COA and their successful drone program in this thread on our community forum.

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