Last week, the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Aviation Rulemaking Committee’s (ARC) Final Report was released. The report has been much anticipated by the drone industry and its stakeholders. The report recommends a complete overhaul of existing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations with entirely new regulations. The goal of that overhaul would be to help the booming $58.4 billion commercial drone market reach its full potential. The FAA’s current regulations require commercial drone operators to operate drones within their visual line of sight only. Additionally, drone operators can only operate one drone at a time. If drone pilots could fly their drones beyond visual line of sight, in groups, it would mean longer flight time, more efficiency and greater possibilities. To reach those goals, the 400-page report includes over 70 recommendations.
BVLOS waivers are not easy to come by. Since 2018, there have been only 86 such waivers granted ((almost 4,000 waivers in total). Even the ones that have been granted are mostly for the use of drones in the context of research and development and not ”real-world” use. Thus, the FAA created ARC in June 2021, to make recommendations for “safe, scalable, economically viable, and environmentally advantageous UAS BVLOS operations that are not under positive air traffic control (ATC).”
The report includes the following recommendations for the FAA:
- Instead of using the one-size-fits-all approach to regulate drone operation, the FAA should use a flexible, risk-based approach to BVLOS operations that takes into account air and ground risks and levels of automation.
- Instead of requiring drones to yield the right-of-way to manned aircraft, the FAA should change these rules and give UAS priority in certain low-level altitudes and locations (e.g., near critical infrastructure) and acknowledge unique UAS attributes, including autonomous technology being used across the industry.
- Include BVLOS operations as part of the remote pilot license by updating operator licensure requirements.
- Since the FAA has not issued an airworthiness certificate to any drone manufacturer to date, instead create a new “BVLOS Rule” for UAS and associated equipment certification of vehicles up to 800,000 ft.-lb. of kinetic energy.
- Create a non-mandatory regulatory scheme for third-party service providers that would support UAS BVLOS operations (i.e., allow private companies to facilitate drone operations instead of air traffic control).
The next step will be for the FAA to determine whether it wants to engage in a formal rule-making process to implement the BVLOS ARC’s recommendations. The drone industry hopes to see swift regulatory movement from the FAA so that existing drone technology can be used to its full potential. Of course, the process to create a new regulation takes at least two years on average (e.g., the remote ID (RID) rule). And even then, the new regulations could face legal challenges similar to the RID rule that was set to go into effect in 2021 but which is currently facing challenges before the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on constitutional and procedural grounds. We will await the FAA’s plan to move the drone industry onward and forward.