Following its much anticipated announcement of new rules concerning Remote ID and operations over people, the Federal Aviation Administration will be focusing on permissions for drone flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), according to FAA Executive Director Jay Merkle.

Speaking to an international audience of virtual attendees at last month’s Interdrone Conference, Merkle said that BVLOS is the biggest challenge left for integrating unmanned aerial systems (UAS) into the national airspace. Establishing guidelines that would allow drone operators to navigate their aircraft beyond the pilot’s field of view could significantly expand the use cases for UAS, Merkle noted, including applications for industrial inspections and small package delivery.

Going Beyond with Drones

“Because there is not a pilot on board, needing to see and avoid other aircraft is a challenge,” Merkle noted during his open discussion with audience members at the conference event. In addition to mitigating risks in the air, any future rules concerning BVLOS likewise need to protect people on the ground. Said Merkle, “If you are going to fly, you need an aircraft that is reliable and durable.”

Through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s new BEYOND program, the FAA is furthering its efforts to frame regulations that will enable BVLOS drone flights. Making BVLOS a reality is a primary objective of the DOT initiative, which picks up where the three-year UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) left off. A collaboration between the FAA and 10 state, local, and tribal governments, the IPP focused on testing and operations through public-private partnerships to gather data that would foster the further integration of drones into the national airspace.

Multi-rotor drone carrying a full-size HD camera for aerial photography and videography
“What we’re doing right now in our BEYOND program is working with companies who want to do this kind of operation, and understanding through waivers and exemptions what the policies should look like and what the data about the operations say in terms of what are the performance standards,” said Merkle. The program likewise seeks to leverage industry operations “to better analyze and quantify the societal and economic benefits of UAS operations,” and focus on “community engagement efforts to collect, analyze and address community concerns,” according to the FAA website.