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Rules of the Sky for Drones

drone rules and regulations for BVLOS

Drone use is growing at a breakneck speed, for both commercial and recreational purposes. As this very young industry grows, rules of the road need to be established. The industry is hard at work creating workable guidelines that guarantee safety and privacy to citizens, but also allow drones to be developed and used to their full potential.

All of this ongoing change and adaptation further complicates the challenge of regulations and guidelines for the FAA.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates all aspects of civil aviation, is cooperating with Brian Krzanich, the CEO of Intel, to try and generate the rules of the sky. The FAA has formed the Drone Advisory Committee and asked Krzanich to lead the program.

RTCA has stated that the Drone Advisory Committee is going to provide an open venue for the FAA and key decision makers, supporting the safe introduction of Unmanned Aircraft Systems into the National Airspace System.

The idea of the committee is to establish seven test sites in order to explore drone flight management. NASA is backing the quest together with its unmanned aircraft traffic management research program. In addition, NASA is working with the FAA to ensure that their own work with UAS integration is progressing.

Michael Huerta, the Chief of the FAA, said that “Our challenge is to find the right balance where safety and innovation co-exist on relatively equal planes.”

Rules and regulations for flying drones are still being discussed but the FAA has created these safety measures to provide a workable framework for UAS in the meantime:

  • Fly at or below 400 feet.
  • Keep your UAS within sight.
  • Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports.
  • Never fly over groups of people.
  • Never fly over stadiums or sports events.
  • Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires.
  • Never fly under the influence.
  • Be aware of airspace requirements.

Drones Skyways are the Future

A graph explaining the zones where drones can fly.

Drones are already being deployed in a complex and incredibly varied set of industries for all types of purposes. Drones are already being used to save lives, especially during natural and manmade disasters. Drones are deployed in support law enforcement, especially for search and rescue as well as tracking suspects. And drones help provide safe infrastructure maintenance and management. They offer academic and media access to hard-to-reach areas. Drones also streamline agriculture management.

In Australia, drone mapping in agriculture is becoming standard practice. ABC News mentioned that start-up businesses are using drones to assess crop health through infrared mapping.

According to Mark Barker, the Director of Business Development and Marketing at the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, “There are many applications that will benefit from drone use.”

All of this ongoing change and adaptation further complicates the challenge of regulations and guidelines for the FAA. By the time the FAA responds to one set of problems and barriers, another set has already presented itself, as the drone industry is simply growing and innovating by leaps and bounds.

BVLOS, The Key to Drone Productivity

The biggest thing for this year with drones is the creation of three U.S. test sites for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). BVLOS is something that the FAA is looking at in order to govern the regulation that makes sense for the whole drone industry.

If beyond-visual-line-of-sight flying becomes valid, many within the drone industry predict a huge amount of activity as new business models can arise to use drones to their full potential.

There are different tests that are going to happen in order to ensure that flying a drone is both reliable and safe. The tests must be managed in a safe but realistic place to guarantee officials that whatever results are acquired within the test sites can be predictably and safely applied to real flying environments.

Three U.S. test sites for BVLOS:

  1. North Dakota – Northern Plains UAS Test Site in North Dakota is the first in the United States to have BVLOS operability. Companies like General Atomics, Northrop Grumman and future tenants at the Grand Sky Technology Park will be able to evaluate and test the complex UAS operations.
  2. Virginia – The test site in Virginia was created by Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, Aerovironment, Dominion Virginia Power, and Ligado Networks. The companies have evaluated communications strategies and other parameters in order to create a case for BVLOS drone flights.
  3. Texas – The BNSF Railway and Rockwell Collins are testing how UAS perform in long linear BVLOS settings. BNSF is able to utilize their right of way and monitor long flights through the use of their railroad tracks that branch our from Fort Worth, Texas and beyond the state lines.

These testing grounds are all-important, because in order for drones to reach their full potential they need BVLOS approval and rules. The FAA and the drone community are working together to establish those rules, and to create the data and safety standards to make drones a realistic business alternative for both industry and entertainment.


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