Drone regulation can be extremely frustrating but we understand the need for it. There has been great progress in overcoming many of the restrictions in the past year or so and the latest is that GE venture, Avitas Systems, has received FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) to fly beyond visual line of site using radar. This is a groundbreaking relaxation of the civil FAA regulations and a big boost for the commercial use of drones or UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) craft.
Until now, all UAS had to remain in view of the pilot and were not permitted to operate BVLOS or beyond visual line of sight. Obviously, this restricted the potential of applications such as inspections and other civil commercial applications. The FAA granted Avitas Systems permission to fly a 55 pound or greater UAS in Loving County, Texas BVLOS. This is the first time civil radar assisted BVLOS has been permitted by the FAA.
Interim Avitas Systems CEO. Brad Tomer released the following statement: “Being the first FAA-approved civil use of BVLOS with radar is a significant achievement for Avitas Systems and our customers,” adding, “Using a technology-centric and collaborative approach is what drives our ability to transform industrial operations and provide safer and more efficient services. We worked closely with Shell Oil Company (Shell) for the use case, location, and to show how this technology can improve industrial operational efficiency and safety. The FAA provided the necessary feedback to enable our team to design a system that safely meets the aviation regulatory requirements. And, we had system design, safety, test, analysis, and validation support from AiRXOS, also a GE venture company.”
The benefits of this development are significant and can lead the way for other companies and further development in the many commercial applications of UAS. By proving they are able to safely fly BVLOS using radar, Avitas have proved that long-range inspections can be conducted faster, more efficiently and at a lower cost. This will improve the safety of pipelines and other infrastructure.
Many of these sites are in rugged terrain that is difficult and dangerous to reach. A safely controlled UAS using accurate real-time radar will not only improve inspections but also reduce the risk to those that would have to otherwise inspect them manually.
The Shell infrastructure inspections are a perfect example and made for a good case study to get FAA approval. U.S. Country Chair for Shell, Bruce Culpepper explains: “Drones are already an integral part of Shell’s digital operations, with missions flown daily across our global footprint. Now, with the FAA’s approval and with the assistance of Avitas Systems, we can fly over a larger area of our Permian Basin operations to conduct aerial monitoring of our oil and gas infrastructure. This includes leak detection and data gathering needed to make more efficient operational decisions, which will result in improved environmental performance with less strain on road infrastructure in the Permian Basin. This is a tremendous achievement made possible through collaboration with the FAA, GE, Avitas Systems, and Shell, and represents the future of drone-based surveillance technology in the U.S. Unconventionals fields of the future.”
Avitas Systems Director of Flight Operations, Michael Clatworthy talks about how they got the BVLOS approval: “We received the FAA’s permission due to our systematic approach of using airspace management with a unique combination of proven UAS radar and communications technologies, which demonstrate that safety is our top priority. This is the first step in our approach to larger-scale BVLOS inspection operations.”
The company has no plans of stopping there and continue to work on a number of projects to improve the safety and capabilities of UAS industrial inspections. This will pave the way for more development in BVLOS inspections and other commercial applications giving the industry another major boost. Faster, safer, less expensive and more accurate industrial infrastructure inspection is now one step closer.