For the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry to reach its full potential in North America, the industry must be able to undertake missions beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) of their operators. This capability will open up new opportunities for unmanned aircraft, particularly in industries with linear assets, (pipelines, power lines, rail), and in industries like emergency response, geophysical surveying, and even delivery.
While the demand for BVLOS operations from the industry is growing, there is still a lot of work that has to be done on the part of the regulator, the manufacturer, and the operator before BVLOS operations become common place in North American Skies.
Current regulations make it very difficult for most operators to be approved for BVLOS, and only a handful of flights have been approved in North America outside of approved test sites. Regulators and industry stakeholders are working together to develop a framework that will permit more BVLOS flights, but the current pace is fairly slow.
However, there is hope that commercial BVLOS operations will be allowed in the near to midterm future. UAS test centres in Canada and the United States are providing regulators with some data on risks associated with BVLOS operations. Manufacturers and operators are utilizing test centres and nations where BVLOS operations are permitted to prove out their technologies and processes. Technological advances in the industry continue to outpace regulation and will look to solve issues like telemetry loss and sense and avoid functions in the near future.
In all, everyone, including the regulators know that for the UAS industry to flourish, BLVOS operations need to take place. However, until certain risks can be mitigated, and technologies can be proven, it will be a long time until your pizza is being delivered by a drone. That said, it shouldn’t be too long until a drone is completing linear asset inspections, delivering vital supplies to Northern communities, or conducting large surveys in remote areas.