In a panel this week in Las Vegas, participants in the FAA’s Focus Area Pathfinder Program, a research initiative for BVLOS and safe flight over people, spoke about the most recent achievements in extending the range of UAV flights allowed by the FAA. Each of the participants described the process they employed for collecting data and establishing safety protocols to help the FAA in its task of making smarter regulation that fits the reality on the ground.
Greg Agvent, Senior Director of CNN Air, has been building out the processes that earned CNN the first waiver issued by the FAA allowing for the operation of a small UAS over crowds. Agvent and his team at CNN have logged over 200 missions and 1000 individual flights as part of the Pathfinder Program. Reports of their operations have led to the issuing of multiple waivers that can now be used as the basis for future requests by other news organizations and other professional pilots.
Agvent was joined on the panel by Allison Ferguson PHD, Director, Airspace Safety Research PrecisionHawk, who with her team has been designing test cases and collecting data to advance the range the FAA permits for drone flights. They developed a system for extended visual line of sight flights, which allows a drone operator to fly beyond the limit of their vision as long as they keep an eye out for larger aircraft. Larger aircraft can be observed at further distances because of their scale so the FAA has felt comfortable granting wavers in this domain. You can see the use case in PrecisionHawk’s FAA Pathfinder Phase 1 EVLOS Report.
Ferguson also showcased Phase 2 and Phase 3 of their Pathfinder initiative which utilize LATAS data to reach safe flight protocols for localized BVLOS operations. She made the case that BVLOS operations and EVLOS operations require attention and care to get right. The system that PrecisionHawk has set up includes software and hardware assisted flights, data analysis for qualifying and quantifying risk over a series of operations, and running enough flights to determine the real world points of failure that can’t be modeled otherwise.
The panel closed with the upbeat note that the FAA has made progress in this domain and that the wavers issued to the Pathfinder participants are also use cases for which all drone pilots can model their own wavers. However, the panelists were hard pressed to give a date for when the FAA would open up the doors to true BVLOS operations in the NAS