Recently I attended the FAA's UAV Symposium in Baltimore, Maryland. The purpose of the conference is to enlighten the crowd with the FAA's regulatory plans for drones in the upcoming future. While many drone pilots are excited that the FAA is open and willing to listen, the data tends to show something totally different.
In the world of drones, if a drone pilot wishes to fly at night, fly over people or wishes to fly from a moving vehicle (in a city), they must apply for a waiver from Part 107. Part 107 allows for significant drone operations but falls short of letting the drone industry truly take flight.
My argument can be simply made with the lack of BVLOS operations in the drone world. BVLOS operations simply state that a drone can be flown beyond visual line of sight. That may seem worrisome to most but believe it or not, the definition of line of sight is rather vague. A pilot must be able to see the drone without aid from ancillary equipment such as glasses or binoculars.
BVLOS operations would have a magnitude of scale effect on the drone industry and business as a whole if the FAA would simply come up with a system to allow BVLOS operations. Let's say they would allow drone pilots to fly within 3 miles of their current position and allow those operations if certain safety protocols were met. Well so far, the chances of that happening are about less than 1%. The data actually shows your chances of this happening are indeed 1%.
Why is this so important? Well, there are plenty of federal contracts and private businesses that wish to take advantage of drone operations, but if the operation must stay within 2250 feet of the operator... it makes business impossible.
Here is the example: If Drone U wanted to map the shoreline of South Carolina, we would essentially have to pack up and move my operations every 2250 feet. Making our operation extremely time-consuming as we would have to move our base station every quarter hour, making our operations inefficient and really lose the value of drone operations as a whole.
Let's say we wanted to fly Lidar and map the beach line, I would have to move about every 12 minutes. This would make the operation burdensome and almost impossible to compete with a helicopter. It is currently possible for Lidar to fly up to an hour at a time, which could cover a few miles, up to ten dependent on weather conditions. This BVLOS operation would make the Drone guys a cost-effective solution in comparison to a helicopter. Helicopters provide less accurate data without ground control points to reference gps accuracy. So truly the best data even comes from UAV's at this point... and yet we cannot legally fly these missions or have drone delivery.
Additionally, without waivers, operations like Amazon's Drone delivery or UPS drone delivery cannot happen until BVLOS operational waivers become systematized. Then smaller operations and larger operations could acquire operations and open up the world to autonomous applications that would serve thousands of businesses across the globe.
Construction companies, engineering firms, surveyors, distributors, service businesses and so many more would truly be able to offer more cost-effective solutions to everyday business problems.
So, from BVLOS operations to nighttime operations and flight over people, what are you actual chances of getting an FAA waiver? 4%
Thanks to the help of Mark Williams, we took the data from the FAA symposium: (See next image) and put all the data into one easy to read pdf.
We will be testing new systems to acquire BVLOS waivers in the hope we can help the FAA figure out a system for granting these waivers.