How can data help move away from exception-based Part 107 waiver approvals for advanced operations?

By Matthew Lordahl, UTM Technical Product Manager • October 13, 2020

Generally, “advanced” Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) operations are operations that are explicitly prohibited by standard Part 107 regulations. These include Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS), over people, multiple aircraft, and controlled airspace operations, just to name a few. An example of an advanced operation is, for example, a long (say, 10 mile) linear powerline inspection that transits through a segment of Class D airspace and crosses a few county roads along the way. A flight like this, at the surface, seems relatively benign; however, anyone in the industry will agree that this is anything but. Obtaining the required approvals for this flight is a non-trivial task that requires a high level of expertise to develop the overall system / Concept of Operations (CONOPS) and prove out the safety case.  Nonetheless, advanced UAS operations are key enablers to drones scaling and becoming more prolific in the national airspace and broader economy.

So how do we move the needle of advanced UAS operations away from exception-based waiver approvals to a set of regulations that is more sustainable and promotes industry growth? The answer is indeed multi-faceted with no single silver bullet. UAS type certifications and minimum equipment lists can address the airworthiness and reliability of a system, often with a hefty price tag. CONOPS changes may mitigate the air and ground risks, but often result in sub-optimal limitations to the overall operations that bring into question the viability of UAS for the use case. With all that said, one area that the industry and regulators are just beginning to scratch the surface on is how the varied sources of data can be leveraged during the pre-flight and in-flight phases to readily assure an acceptable level of safety for advanced UAS operations.

Some examples of such data are:

  • Terrain
  • Obstacle
  • Population
  • Jurisdictional Boundaries
  • Micro-Weather
  • Detect and Avoid (DAA); includes ADS-B & Radar
  • Command and Control (C2) Link Health
  • UAS Performance

Judicious aggregation of this (and other) data coupled with published regulatory standards or best practices for advanced UAS operations will allow the Remote Pilot in Command (RPIC) to make informed decisions in order to remain safe and compliant. In doing so, we have shifted the mindset from “prohibited unless exceptions (i.e. waivers) are granted on a case-by-case basis” to “permitted by default so long as certain criteria are met.”

The AiRXOS Air Mobility™ Platform ingests and intelligently visualizes data from multiple authoritative sources to provide a comprehensive view of both the air and ground space to ensure safe, compliant, and economical advanced UAS operations. At AiRXOS, we are working to integrate UAS conducting advanced operations into the National Airspace and make BVLOS long-linear inspections, or package delivery, for instance, commonplace in the global economy.