In the past, public safety agencies have always had to maintain visual line of sight with any drones that they fly. Last week the Federal Aviation Administration changed the rules on that front.
Public safety organizations that fly drones can now apply for a beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The FAA released the BVLOS waiver guide for first responders last week during its annual Unmanned Aircraft Systems Symposium. If the waiver is granted to an organization, BVLOS flights must comply with a variety of spatial regulations and only be performed when absolutely necessary.
The guide opens with a description of a few situations that can justify BVLOS.
“In a time of extreme emergencies to safeguard human life,” the guide reads, “first responders require the capability to operate their unmanned aircraft (UAS) beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) to assess the operational environment such as a fire scene at a large structural fire, to conduct an aerial search on a large roof area for a burglary in progress, or to fly over a heavily forested area to look for a missing person.”
During a BVLOS flight, a drone can’t be flown more than 1,500 feet away from the pilot. Additionally, a pilot can’t fly a drone “any higher than 50 feet above or greater than 400 feet laterally of the nearest obstacle.”
Christopher Todd, executive director of the Airborne International Response Team, said in an email that the new waiver “was the culmination of over nine months of work” performed by a variety of partners, including DRONERESPONDERS, York County Fire and Life Safety, Chula Vista Police Department and the San Diego Integration Pilot Program.
According to a tweet shared by the FAA, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said his organization will “tackle the technical challenges of scaling BVLOS to make it routine and economically viable.”
Back in October of last year, a local Colorado fire commissioner told Government Technology about the challenge of maintaining visual line of sight with a drone during a mission that involved the rescue of a stranded kayaker near mountainous terrain.
Although the BVLOS waiver is new for public safety organizations, BVLOS flights have been approved by the FAA in other contexts. For example, in 2019, State Farm announced that it was the first company to receive a “national waiver” for BVLOS flights related to “catastrophic assessments.”
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