BVLOS – Opening New Horizons for UAVs across Survey, Safety and Security
Technically speaking, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been around since the eighteenth century when the Montgolfier brothers thrilled public audiences with a hot air balloon display (rshaffer,2020). By the mid-nineteenth century, the notion had been extended to test the technology for military purposes with the invention of a largely ineffectual balloon bomb and, later, by Alfred Nobel (he of dynamite and Prize fame) for a more benign use in aerial photography. By 1898 when Nikola Tesla astounded audiences in New York’s Madison Square Gardens with an uncrewed radio-controlled boat some thought it was magic, but it was only a matter of time before the technology evolved into radio-controlled aircraft.
The rest, as they say, is history and the exponential growth, as capabilities advance and costs reduce, has seen the technology proliferate with governments around the globe identifying UAVs as a major growth sector.
With this growth has come a demand for Beyond the Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) technology, which allows drones to fly further, higher and for longer periods than traditional drone operations. Sense and avoid technology enables a drone to detect and navigate obstacles; inbuilt sensors make day and night operations feasible and feedback sensors, that allow drones to speak to each other within the same airspace, offer decision-making potential for the future.
The technology promises untold solutions but also the need for careful management of the safety and security of the airspace in relationship with Aviation Safety Authorities.
Previously in Australia, drones were remotely operated by a pilot with eyes on the drone at all times. Upon application to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), commercial UAV pilots could exceed limitations and conduct Extended Visual Line of Sight (EVLOS) operations which allowed them to fly beyond the 500m horizontal and 120m vertical distances imposed on amateurs. Now the possibilities for uncrewed BVLOS drone surveying and inspection seem limitless. Advances in fuel cells, lightweight components, improved wireless network connectivity, and advances in AI programming are all contributing to this tech as a game-changer.
CASA anticipates that the next few years will see a massive increase in the uptake of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) flying in BVLOS conditions, particularly in the commercial sector. The ensuing scenarios have raised significant challenges around safety mitigations due to shared airspace risks and cybersecurity.
Its response is explained in CASA’s re-evaluation of BVLOS’ impact in the document, The RPAS and AAM (Advanced Air Mobility) Strategic Regulatory Roadmap, which aims to define the regulations for commercial flying of drones and outlines a long-term plan to guide the safe integration of this new technology into the current aviation space. The plan will evolve in line with future developments. (Accreditation for both operator and drone currently expires after three years).
At the present time, to apply for BVLOS flight authorisation, applicants are legally required to complete CASA’s documentary requirements and satisfy a flight assessment. Eligibility as a supervising remote pilot demands applicants have passed one of the following:
To support applicants, CASA has generated a suite of standard scenarios to assist in categorising their BVLOS operations, with any non-standard operations requiring a specific operations risk assessment (SORA) before approval is granted.
Rocketmine is fully authorised by the Australian Government’s regulatory body, CASA, to conduct BVLOS commercial drone operations. It is also authorised by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), where the company has flown successful BVLOS flights since 2018 – conducting surveying, data gathering and search and rescue operations in remote and hazardous terrain. This accumulated wealth of experience is a key metric in the advancement of Rocketmine operational capacity and in the ability of the company to provide big, fast data to clients across multiple industries.
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