Uptick in BVLOS approvals signals big progress for drone industry
There’s been a big uptick in BVLOS approvals as of late — both in the U.S. and abroad. BVLOS is short for Beyond Visual Line of Sight, and it’s crucial to enabling most drone flights. Many drone use cases, from a drone delivery miles away to an inspection of a building from beyond a wall, require drones to fly beyond what the pilot can actually see.
But because most governments don’t actually allow BVLOS drone flights for most people, drone operators typically need to apply for separate approvals. But here’s some encourage news. BVLOS approvals are flying high, and it signals that governments are getting more comfortable with drones — which in turn means that widespread drone use might not be far away.
Last week, we took you on a world tour of the most interesting drone delivery projects popping up this spring. This week, we’re bringing you some of the most interesting BVLOS approvals we’ve seen this spring:
This spring, drone inspection company Percepto received approval from the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel (CAAI) to fly drones Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) across three different industrial locations in Israel. That means Percepto’s Israeli customers can now use their drones from a remote location without BVLOS-certified RPICs, which is a designation that was originally created for operators of military drones with very rigorous criteria, and that Percepto says is otherwise extremely challenging to obtain.
Now, Percepto’s customers can implement automated drone programs within a matter of weeks compared to what had previously been months.
“This advanced framework developed by Percepto and CAAI introduces a new era of drone operations in Israel, and we hope it can set a global standard for other countries to follow,” said Percepto Co-founder and CEO Dor Abuhasira. “Our Israeli customers can now more rapidly harness the power of automation to make their sites safer and more efficient.”
Among the sites include national water company Mekorot’s Eshkol site, enabling the company to use Percepto drones to monitor their facilities without actually needing an observer to be present during their operation.
Percepto is a fairly well-regarded company, with its drone-in-a-box solution having been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Best Inventions of 2021.
Here’s another bit of BVLOS approvals news from Percepto: The company in April announced that Dutch civil aviation authority ILT has approved Percepto drones for BVLOS flights.
The approvals will be used by another Netherlands-based drone company that uses drones for inspections, Falcker, to use Percepto’s drone-in-a-box system for BVLOS flights. After conducting test inspections in the Netherlands including at a tank terminal, Falcker said it also plans to expand into Germany and Belgium.
That makes this the first BVLOS approval granted to Percepto under the new European drone regulations. Those regulations put out by the European Aviation Safety Association (EASA) came into effect in January 2022, providing a framework for companies to perform more complex operations (like BVLOS flights).
Because the new rules dictate that approvals granted by one member state can be used in similar conditions throughout all EASA member states, the BVLOS approvals coming out of Netherlands pave the way for progress throughout the rest of the continent.
“We are thrilled about this latest BVLOS achievement, which will make a big impact on expanding drone inspections in the Netherlands and across Europe,” said Percepto CEO Abuhasira.
UTM (Unified Traffic Management) software company Altitude Angel announced in March extensive plans to build the world’s largest and longest network of ‘drone superhighways’ that would link towns and cities across the United Kingdom.
Dubbed Project Skyway, it would integrate all sorts of advanced drone technologies beyond just UTM, but also things like detect and avoid (DAA) technology. The combination of DAA solutions with UTM software should enable greater awareness of both manned and unmanned traffic.
The drone superhighway would be 165 miles long and would initially connect the Midlands with the Southeast along the UK’s south coast, including the cities of Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Coventry, and Rugby. Potential extensions could go to Southampton on the south coast and Ipswich on the east coast.
We’ve seen similar drone corridors being tested elsewhere in the world, including a famous drone corridor in New York. But unlike many existing drone corridors or research facilities that can be fairly restrictive in terms of access (which in some ways is natural given their beta nature), this superhighway proposal democratizes BVLOS drone operations. Altitude Angel says that any drone company — as long as it completes a series of basic technical integrations (which don’t actually even require specialist hardware on-board the drone, to boot) — will be supported.
“This is the most ambitious transport project proposed for the country since the advent of the railway network in the 18th century,” said Richard Parker, Altitude Angel, CEO and founder. “Britain is at the forefront of a second transport revolution. With the government’s support, using this technology as its foundation, we can create networks spanning the length and breadth of Britain, a super-highway-network-in-the-sky, providing a critical digital infrastructure which will, in-turn, enable the world’s first truly national drone economy.”
Should the project in the United Kingdom be a success, Altitude Angel says it wants to make available the technology for any organization, airport, town, or city to establish similar drone superhighways via a licensing agreement.
United States: Reno, Nevada
The City of Reno, Nevada has long been a leader in progressive drone operations. And in April 2022, the city granted drone company Iris Automation a waiver to use the company’s Casia G ground-based solution for BVLOS operations. The Casia G is a patented, detect and avoid technology that can create a stationary perimeter of sanitized, monitored airspace specifically to allow drones to fly, while also offering them up awareness of intruder-piloted aircraft to maneuver UAVs to safe zones.
Because it creates a sanitized ‘bubble’ of airspace, the Casia G would in theory support one operator who is controlling multiple drones, which is also a big component of BVLOS operations.
“This latest approval to fly BVLOS using Casia G gives operators looking to perform remote and one-to-many operations a solution to mitigate the risk of mid-air collisions, without having to use human visual observers,” said Gabrielle Wain, VP of Global Policy and Government Affairs at Iris Automation. “This is a critical step for the economical scaling of small UAS BVLOS missions.”
And that news was announced not long after the City of Reno’s Fire Department also received a waiver to use Iris’s Casia X for BVLOS flights.
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