Beyond visual line of sight drone operations (BVLOS) couldn’t come soon enough not just for new businesses, but existing ones. More than half of existing drone pilots say that they expect BVLOS operations will create new business opportunities for their organization’s existing drone programs.
That’s the latest from a July 2021 survey conducted by Aloft (the company formerly known as Kittyhawk), which asked more than 200 of its users about future regulatory changes for the drone industry from BVLOS.
Those who responded to they survey already have existing drone operations. Yet, 59% of them said that they expect their businesses to grow and reach new opportunities once BVLOS operations are expanded and able to more easily be executed.
What is BVLOS, and why is it important for drone businesses?
Most drone use cases that come to mind, such as drone delivery, would not be possible unless drones could fly outside of the operator’s line of sight — which is currently not permitted by the FAA without a BVLOS waiver. Right now, BVLOS waivers are incredibly tough to get. Luckily, the FAA is looking to simplify how to permit BVLOS flights.
The FAA in June announced its new BVLOS Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) as part of its 6th annual FAA Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Symposium. That committee is set to help the FAA develop a regulatory path for routine BVLOS operations by providing recommendations to the FAA for regulatory requirements to normalize safe, scalable, economically viable, and environmentally friendly drone flights. Expect to see recommendations from that committee submitted by the end of 2021.
Read more: How to get a Part 107 BVLOS waiver
So how would drones actually be used when flying beyond line of sight? Here were the most common use cases, according to Aloft users in the July 2021 survey:
- Mapping or surveying (24%)
- Inspections, such as agriculture and utilities (22%)
- Search & Rescue/ Law Enforcement missions (21%)
- Photography, videography, cinematography, or real estate operations (19%)
- Automated missions or deliveries (9%)
What’s interesting about the slim margins is that clearly multiple industries will benefit from BVLOS drone operations — it’s not just contained to one particular area. Whether you use drones for cinematography or photogrammetry, it seems that making BVLOS flights more easily legal is a win for most drone pilots.
“There are many use cases which are currently not possible for drones but with BVLOS regulatory changes could enable opportunity for drones to be used in new and innovative ways,” according to an analysis of the survey results from Aloft.
Just 16% of survey respondents said they would not actually perform BVLOS operations, as it was not critical or impactful to their current operations. Presumably, their businesses are already successful in their current operations where drones fly within eyesight.
What are the risks of BVLOS?
While some may think that BVLOS drone operations are dangerous — after all, drones are flying without a human pilot watching them in person and might fly off or into a tree or building — that’s likely more myth than fact. 40% of respondents in the Aloft survey actually said that they believe BVLOS operations are safer compared to other options which present higher risk for employees and/or equipment.
That’s likely because BVLOS drone flights conduct tasks that are dangerous for humans to do — inspecting long oil pipelines, going behind buildings that would be dangerous to climb or delivering medical supplies to remote areas or places where infrastructure has been damaged such as via a natural disaster.
That said, BVLOS likely won’t be possible until other policies are worked through. Its success will likely be contingent upon other big processes including implementing Remote ID of drones, as well as establishing a system of UTM (drone traffic management). With more drones flying through the air, UTM systems can ensure drones are talking to each other and know where they’re flying to avoid creating too much drone traffic — and avoid drones crashing into each other. Meanwhile, Remote ID will enable pilots to know what drones are actually in the air. And we have made headway on Remote ID, after the Federal Aviation Administration’s Final Rule for Remote ID went into effect in April 2021.
“The response from this study is clear,” according to a statement from Aloft. “Drone users are looking to regulators to continue evolving the industry’s regulatory infrastructure to support innovation and expand the possibilities for drone use cases in the future.”