Above and Beyond: FAA Administrator Announces Formation of Beyond Visual Line of Sight Rulemaking Committee for Drones

Wiley Rein LLP

This week the FAA held “Episode III” of its Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS or “drones”) Symposium, which connects stakeholders from government and the private sector to discuss the rules and concepts behind drone operations and safe integration into the national airspace. At the event, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson lauded the FAA’s activities over the last several months to expand commercial UAS operations – including finalizing the operations over people and operations at night rules and the remote identification rule – and announced that the FAA is forming a new Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) to help the agency develop a regulatory path for routine Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations.

UAS flights beyond visual line of sight are currently prohibited under the FAA’s Part 107 rules for operations of small UAS. Today, the small UAS pilot must be able to see the UAS throughout the entire flight with vision that is unaided apart from corrective lenses. Although some companies have secured FAA waivers to conduct BVLOS operations, obtaining this authority has been a difficult and time-consuming process. The UAS industry has long been clamoring for permission to routinely fly drones BVLOS, as extended range flights will enable advanced use cases such as drone delivery, precision agriculture, and surveillance and inspection in remote and dangerous areas. Enabling BVLOS is a foundational element of unleashing the full benefits of UAS.

The ARC will consider the safety, security and environmental needs, as well as societal benefits, of BVLOS operations. Within six months, the committee will submit recommendations to the FAA for performance-based regulatory requirements “to normalize safe, scalable, economically viable, and environmentally advantageous UAS BVLOS operations.” The FAA will set up a committee of members representing a diverse set of aviation and UAS stakeholders to join the ARC. The FAA has released a proposed membership list for the ARC.

The formation of the BVLOS ARC is a vital first step toward enabling routine BVLOS operations, which will pave the way for exciting and advanced drone services. Our team of UAS professionals will continue to monitor FAA activity and expects more to come on advanced drone operations. Happy flying!

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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