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FAA Ends the UAS IPP, Launches the BEYOND Program with Big Emphasis on BVLOS

BY Zacc Dukowitz
5 November 2020

After completing its stipulated three year period, the UAS IPP (UAS Integration Pilot Program) ended on October 25th.

The next day, on October 26th, the FAA announced the launch of the BEYOND program, a new initiative that will continue the work started by the IPP.

faa-beyond-program-cover

If you’re wondering what the name of the FAA’s new program signifies, from what we’ve found it’s not an acronym but rather an emphasis on the FAA’s prioritization of normalizing Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations in the U.S.

Stakeholders in the commercial drone sector have been vocal for some time about the importance of BVLOS for commercial drone applications. The name of the new program should send a signal to those stakeholders that their concerns are being heard.

About the FAA’s BEYOND Program

For those who thought the UAS IPP should have been extended instead of allowed to end, the launch of the BEYOND program is good news.

The IPP propelled the American drone industry forward, allowing for unprecedented expansions in testing and operations through innovative private-public partnerships across the country. Now, the BEYOND program will build upon this success, tackling the next big challenges facing drone integration.

– Michael Kratsios, U.S. Chief Technology Officer

According to the FAA, the BEYOND program aims to take on the remaining challenges facing UAS integration, namely:

  • Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations that are repeatable, scalable and economically viable with specific emphasis on infrastructure inspection, public operations and small package delivery.
  • Leveraging industry operations to better analyze and quantify the societal and economic benefits of UAS operations.
  • Focusing on community engagement efforts to collect, analyze and address community concerns.

Note: The above list was taken from the FAA’s website.

It’s noteworthy that of all the types of drone operations generally prohibited by the FAA’s Part 107 rules, like flying at night or over people, flying BVLOS is the only one explicitly listed as a priority for this new program.

To make things more interesting, the FAA has stated that the program will “focus on operating under established rules”—here’s the full quote:

The program will focus on operating under established rules rather than waivers, collecting data to develop performance-based standards, collecting and addressing community feedback and understanding the societal and community benefits, and to streamline the approval processes for UAS integration.

The FAA

Given that BVLOS operations are currently prohibited by the Part 107 rules, this language indicates there may be some pretty important rule changes coming up.

beyond-program-faa-drone
Image source

Differences Between the IPP and the BEYOND Program

Where the IPP sought to test commercial drone operations that were prohibited by the Part 107 rules, it looks like the BEYOND program will seek to move from testing into implementation.

What does this mean for commercial drone operators?

On the surface, it looks like the FAA may be getting ready to roll out new rules that could significantly relax restrictions on operations currently prohibited by the Part 107 rules.

[Related reading: How Much Progress Has the UAS IPP Made? A Look Back at the First Year and the FAA Approvals Secured]

Of these operations, the three main ones that would enable the commercial drone industry are flying at night, flying over people, and flying BVLOS.

The first two are slated to be addressed by new rules that were proposed in January of 2019. And it’s looking like the third one may also be normalized through new rulemaking, with the BEYOND program possibly serving to enable that process.

drones-faa-beyond-program
Image source

Another aspect of the BEYOND program that seems to be a departure from the UAS IPP is a subtle shift away from a focus on involving local voices in drone policymaking.

Here are the two relevant goals for the IPP:

  • Identifying ways to balance local and national interests related to drone integration
  • Improving communications with local, state and tribal jurisdictions

The FAA

Compare these two goals, which explicitly call for balancing national and local interests and communicating with local governments, with this related goal for the BEYOND program (taken from the bullet list provided above): “Focusing on community engagement efforts to collect, analyze and address community concerns.”

The change in language seems to indicate a move away from partnering with local governments toward a relationship in which local concerns are heard and analyzed, but not necessarily given an equal seat at the table.

This shift could indicate that the FAA has acknowledged that, at the end of the day, there needs to be one arbiter of who can do what in the skies in order for the commercial drone industry to have a fighting chance.

Of course, this is all speculative. However, we do think it’s remarkable that the FAA didn’t just adopt the same language from the IPP regarding community engagement if it didn’t continue to have the same goals on that front.

Despite the changes noted above, one thing will stay relatively the same between the two programs: its partners.

Of the nine IPP partners, eight will be continuing on with the BEYOND program. The one partner that will not continue is the city of San Diego, whose IPP program contained the much-publicized Chula Vista Police Department.

Celebrating the UAS IPP

To celebrate the end of the UAS IPP, the FAA hosted a live virtual event on October 30th in which IPP participants and big names from the U.S. government, including Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, spoke about the success of the program.

Here is a recording of the event (click the image below to visit the FAA’s YouTube channel):

uas-ipp-video-image

Want to jump around in the video? Here are some quick links to send you to key parts of the presentation:

Are you excited about the BEYOND program? Do you think the UAS IPP accomplished its stated goals? Share your thoughts in this thread on the UAV Coach community forum.

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