A Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) waiver from the FAA is highly sought after and many believe difficult to get approved. Some in the industry call it the unicorn of waivers. In reality, it is a highly complex operation that requires very detailed safety and risk assessment and testing along with top-notch equipment. Safety is paramount with aviation operations, and advanced drone operations are no different, except with BVLOS, ensuring safety becomes even more arduous.
As of November 2018, the FAA had issued 2,223 Part 107 waivers – yet only 1.17 percent were BVLOS waivers (with a few additional BVLOS exemptions that have been approved)1 Although the FAA and the industry have referred to these previously granted approvals as “BVLOS,” in fact all of these approvals required the use of a visual observer or a second pilot to visually scan the airspace to identify other aircraft that could create a collision hazard with the drone.
This ‘visual observer’ version of BVLOS is limited in its utility and cost scalability when it comes to inspections.
True BVLOS — flying without a visual observer — is not difficult to achieve if you have the right team and technology to implement it. In October 2018, AiRXOS, part of GE Aviation, developed the processes, procedures and training to obtain FAA approval to fly an unmanned aerial system BVLOS for Avitas Systems, a GE Venture, in a 22.5-square-mile area in Loving County Texas, owned by the Shell Oil Company.
The permission authorizes Avitas Systems to fly an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) over 55 pounds at low altitudes without a visual observer for industrial inspection. This is the nation’s first FAA-approved civil use of BVLOS with radar.
This represents true BVLOS capability at its best. Leveraging decades of GE Aviation safety expertise and a proven history of drone flight ops, AiRXOS accelerated the process for obtaining FAA civil use approval for BVLOS operations. AiRXOS worked with ground-based radar and vehicle providers and operators to develop a BVLOS safety-case, prepared a successful waiver application, and gained operational approval from the FAA.
While the industry may believe BVLOS is still in the future, AiRXOS is already obtaining these waivers for oil & gas customers.
In the Tom Cruise/Cameron Diaz film, “Knight and Day,” Cruise tells Diaz, “You can either go it alone or go it with me.” He emphasizes the point – puts his hand bottom of an imaginary vertical scale and says, “without me” – and then moves his hand up the scale and says, “with me.” Without me, you’re only at the starting level, but with me you’re at a dramatically higher level with greater benefits.
The same is true with advanced operations and BVLOS. While Oil and Gas VLOS drone inspection programs provide clear cost and safety savings compared to helicopter inspections, there is still even greater opportunity to multiply the cost and risk reductions through BVLOS. BLVOS is not urban myth; it is obtainable, and if your drone inspection program is not already investigating how to apply for and use BVLOS today, you could be missing out on substantial savings.