In a revolutionary step for beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone flights the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in the US permitted the University of Alaska Fairbanks to successfully conduct the first (BVLOS) drone flight. FAA regulations till date required drone flights to remain within their operators’ line of sight, so they could look out for aircraft and other objects on the way.
This successful test flight is a big step towards making drone deliveries a reality in the country, something retailers like Amazon are planning to deploy to keep up with consumer demand for high-speed deliveries. The retail delivery giant which has been using drones for UK deliveries since 2016 had stated in June that it was expecting to start similar drone deliveries in the U.S. “in months.”
Cathy Cahill, the director of the university’s drone program told Reuters that BVLOS flights are of immense importance to Alaska because the lack of roads in remote areas makes it difficult to complete many vital missions. The University of Alaska Fairbanks is focused on testing drone use for medical supply delivery and pipeline surveillance, Cahill added further.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said on Friday that it had approved the first drone flight beyond the operator’s sight line. The flight conducted over an oil pipeline was part of a joint program with the FAA to test BVLOS, flights in which drones automatically perform tasks that would otherwise be done manually.
Such flights can travel farther than the less than two miles for in-sight flights, depending on visibility and drone size.
According to reports, University of Alaska’s test flight used a hybrid electric drone to inspect a four-mile section of the Trans-Alaska pipeline. Since the test’s objective was to fly the drone for the inspection’s whole duration with no human involvement, the team had to load it with an on-board technology by Iris Automation called the Casia system. It’s a sense-and-avoid technology that is capable of detecting other aircraft and making intelligent decisions on what kind of threat they pose to the drone. The Casia system worked with the eight ground-based radars the team installed along the route.
While this week’s drone BVLOS flight did not fly over people, drone flights used for delivery would require permission for it. Dan Elwell FAA acting Administrator said this pilot test advances the industry toward the reliable integration of drones into the airspace.
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