FAA Issues Drone Line-of-Sight Waiver for Public Safety


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Public safety organizations that fly drones can now apply for a Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

The FAA released the BVLOS waiver guide for first responders last week during its annual Unmanned Aircraft Systems Symposium. If the waiver is granted to an organization, BVLOS flights must comply with spatial regulations and only be performed when absolutely necessary, according to govtech.com

The guide describes situations that can justify the waiver. “In a time of extreme emergencies to safeguard human life,” the guide reads, “first responders require the capability to operate their unmanned aircraft (UAS) beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) to assess the operational environment such as a fire scene at a large structural fire, to conduct an aerial search on a large roof area for a burglary in progress, or to fly over a heavily forested area to look for a missing person.”  

During a BVLOS flight, a drone can’t be flown more than 1,500 feet away from the pilot. Additionally, a pilot can’t fly a drone “any higher than 50 feet above or greater than 400 feet laterally of the nearest obstacle.”

Christopher Todd, executive director of the Airborne International Response Team, stated the new waiver “was the culmination of over nine months of work” performed by a variety of partners, including DRONERESPONDERS, York County Fire and Life Safety, Chula Vista Police Department and the San Diego Integration Pilot Program. 

According to a tweet, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said his organization will “tackle the technical challenges of scaling BVLOS to make it routine and economically viable.”

Although the BVLOS waiver is new for public safety organizations, BVLOS flights have been approved by the FAA in other contexts, according to the account. For example, in 2019, State Farm said it was the first company to receive a “national waiver” for BVLOS flights related to “catastrophic assessments.”

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