FAA Directed to Devise Final Rule for BVLOS Flights Within 20 Months

who will replace Billy Nolen Acting Administrator FAA, FAA BVLOS RulemakingFAA Reauthorization Bill Mandates Final Rule for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Drone Flights to Boost Industry Growth

By DRONELIFE Features Editor Jim Magill

(The following is the second in a series of articles on how the recent passage of the bill to reauthorize the FAA positively impacts the drone and eVTOL industries.)

While the bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, which Congress recently passed, contained many provisions long sought by the drone community, none of the sections of the bill was as significant to drone operators as Section 930, mandating the FAA to develop a final rule on beyond visual line of sight flights within 20 months.

FAA BVLOS Rulemaking: the Holy Grail for the Commercial Drone Industry

A final BVLOS rule has long been the Holy Grail among those advocating for the continued growth of the commercial drone industry. Such a rule, which would apply to all unmanned aerial system (UAS) operations, would replace the current system, in which operator seeking to conduct BVLOS flights must undertake the cumbersome process of individually applying for waivers or exemptions to existing regulations.

“I think probably the crown jewel of the title would be the beyond visual line of sight rulemaking. I think that it was agreed at the outset that this was the most important thing that we needed to get done for the commercial drone industry,” a Republican committee aide for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said in an interview.

Section 930 requires the FAA to develop a proposed BVLOS rule within four months of the passage of the reauthorization bill, with a final rule to follow within 16 months.

The section states, “The proposed rule shall, at a minimum, establish the following: acceptable levels of risk for BVLOS UAS  operations; standards for remote pilots or UAS operators for BVLOS operations, taking into account varying levels of automated control and management of UAS flights; an approval or acceptance process for UAS and associated elements which may leverage the creation of a special airworthiness certificate or a manufacturer’s declaration of compliance to an FAA-accepted means of compliance.”

Michael Robbins, president and CEO of the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), said the development of a final BVLOS rule would give the owners of commercial drone operations the certainty they need to truly scale up their businesses.

Robbins said the next section of the legislation, Section 931, also would help achieve that goal of certainty while the FAA is in the process of creating the final rule, by directing the FAA to develop a risk-assessment methodology, to make decisions based on an acceptable level of risk. This would allow the FAA to expedite the process of granting BVLOS waivers and exemptions to the current rules, while the new rule is being written.

Section 931 states that “Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator shall develop a risk-assessment methodology that allows for the determination of acceptable levels of risk for unmanned aircraft system operations, including operations beyond visual line of sight.”

“I give the FAA a lot of credit, even independent of this FAA reauthorization bill, for making great progress on waivers and exemptions for BVLOS operations,” Robbins said. “Since September, I think there’s been at least nine new exemptions granted, for various types of operations, whether that’s for infrastructure inspection or drone delivery.”

Lisa Ellman, executive director of the Commercial Drone Alliance, agreed on the importance of creating a final BVLOS rule for achieving the CDA’s goals of moving the commercial drone industry forward and bringing the benefits of commercial drones to the American people.

“That will really propel the industry forward,” she said. “The technology has lagged behind the pace of policy here in the United States, and this bill paves the way for the United States to catch up in that respect.”

In a statement, the Small UAV Coalition called on the FAA to move quickly to follow the congressional mandate for BVLOS rulemaking set forward in the reauthorization bill. “Now that Congress is providing clear direction on the BVLOS rulemaking, we urge the FAA to publish its NPRM [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking] expeditiously and advance the agency’s efforts to lead the world in providing for safe BVLOS flights at scale,” the Coalition said.

“The Coalition looks forward to continuing its work with Congress on promoting a regulatory framework that will allow the drone industry to bring the numerous benefits this technology provides to communities across the country while maintaining U.S. leadership in aviation.”

The reauthorization legislation also includes provisions to reduce conflicts between drone BVLOS operations and small planes and helicopters flying in the same airspace.

“NAAA is most pleased with the safety provisions in H.R. 3935 [the reauthorization bill] that protect manned ag aircraft in low-altitude airspace, such as language requiring the FAA to ensure the safety of low-altitude manned aircraft from drones, or uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) operating beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS),” the National Agricultural Aviation Association, which represents the users of manned aircraft in the agricultural sphere, said in a statement.

(Part 3 of this series will examine how the bill to reauthorize the FAA will help spur the growth of the U.S. commercial drone industry by advancing the integration of drones into the US airspace system.)

Read more:

Jim mug2Jim mug2Jim Magill is a Houston-based writer with almost a quarter-century of experience covering technical and economic developments in the oil and gas industry. After retiring in December 2019 as a senior editor with S&P Global Platts, Jim began writing about emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robots and drones, and the ways in which they’re contributing to our society. In addition to DroneLife, Jim is a contributor to Forbes.com and his work has appeared in the Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report, and Unmanned Systems, a publication of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

Miriam McNabbMiriam McNabb

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry.  Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.


Subscribe to DroneLife here.

Optimized by Optimole