What is BVLOS? BVLOS means Beyond Visual Line of Sight operations for drones. BVLOS is the natural progression for commercial drone operations, but before it can take off the FAA will need to make it safe, so until then everyone is in a holding pattern. The limitation to Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) or Extended Visual Line of Sight (EVLOS) is part of the reason multirotors dominate the market today; there’s little demand for long-range fixed wing drones without the FAA’s regulations for BVLOS. So, when BVLOS happens, the question is with what regulation, which technical leaps, and where upgrades need to occur to put your drone into the national airspace?
The answer is there are three core requirements before wide adoption of BVLOS operations can be adopted: detect-and-avoid technology, robust communication systems, and airworthiness certification.
DETECT AND AVOID
One of the core tenets of flight is being able to “see and avoid” other aircraft. Nobody wants a collision in mid-air. Pilots are trained to constantly scan the sky within line of sight even as they monitor their aircraft’s instruments. However, for drone operators, they’re physically removed from the unmanned aerial system (UAS) itself, adding an extra degree of difficulty and complexity in spotting other aircraft. If UAS are going to fly beyond visual line of sight, how can we ensure that they’ll be able to execute the basic practice of seeing and avoiding other aircraft?
Per codified FAA mandate, a remote pilot must always know the unmanned aircraft’s (UA) location, determine the UA’s attitude, altitude, and direction of flight, observe the airspace for other air traffic hazards, and determine that the UA does not endanger the life or property of another.
There are a number of solutions that are undergoing development to ensure detect-and-avoid capabilities of UAS. Methods include using a ground-based network of active sensors, utilizing onboard sensors, or subscribing to a traffic management platform. The key distinction is that aircraft in the national airspace (NAS) must achieve a ‘well clear’ status from other aircraft. The definition of ‘well clear’ quantitatively is not defined by the FAA, though NASA is currently working on defining this term in quantitative terms.
To maintain BVLOS flight for UAS, detect-and-avoid technology needs to be clearly defined and implemented within UAS. There must be a predictable outcome for when encounters between UAS and other entities in the NAS occur. With a predictable, automated outcome for these encounters, detect-and-avoid technology can be successfully implemented as drones move into the BVLOS realm and the NAS.