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Regulating advanced drone operations

March 24, 2021  - By

Why permissions and regulations are an important part of workflows

By Pierre-Alain Marchand
Regulatory Compliance Manager, senseFly

Pierre Alain Marchand

Pierre Alain Marchand

Now widely accepted as a mainstream commercial mapping tool, the benefits of using drones to make better-informed decisions and provide a robust return on investment are well understood.

But progress in drone technology is shifting the focus to more advanced operations, a term that encompasses a wide range of activity, including beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) flights and operations over people (OOP), as well as flying at night, as part of a fleet, or in restricted airspace.

These types of flights typically require more planning and permissions, but both can help improve safety for people on the ground, as well as create long-term cost savings and improve data-collection efficiencies.

Part 107 Waivers. However, while the benefits of advanced drone operations are increasingly well recognized, navigating these differences can be complex.

For instance, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires all companies planning advanced drone operations to complete a Part 107 waiver, an official document that approves certain operations of aircraft outside the limitations of regulation.

However, of the thousands of applications completed in 2018, only 23 were approved. Despite these poor figures, progress is being made to help make the approvals process more accessible.

Testing. Drone testing has been key to getting operations to where they are today — and will continue to play a role when demonstrating how the required safety, regulatory and logistical criteria of advanced drone operations can be met. Its importance should not be underestimated; testing has the potential to speed up regulatory procedures and even expand drone operations.

For that reason, investing in drone testing remains a priority today — the more data that is made available to backup a drone’s durability and reliability, the more evidence there is that the technology is safe and fit-for-purpose. SenseFly fixed-wing drones, for example, have thousands of hours of safety testing behind them, which is vital for streamlining and accelerating the approval of waiver requests and flight permissions.

Testing can also create more opportunities within the project scope, for instance by allowing operators to fly in more built-up areas.

Permissions. Although testing plays a key role in establishing regulatory compliance, it is still only one piece of the puzzle. With the rules for flying changing all the time, there is also the issue of navigating complex flight permission processes, which vary between countries.

The good news is that we are now seeing authorities across the world taking measures to streamline the regulatory process and make the rules clearer for operators. For example, the FAA has recently launched its new BEYOND program, which will support efforts to move toward BVLOS operations being carried out under established rules rather than waivers. Type certification is also becoming increasingly important in the U.S., which may further signal a potential move away from waivers in the future.

It’s promising to see the issue of regulatory compliance and flight permissions being placed at the top of authorities’ agendas. Connections are vital. Working in this way is a two-way process: both parties want to learn more about advanced drone operations and streamline the administration requirements.

Although there is still work to be done to ensure advanced drone operations become more accessible, the industry is moving in the right direction. As the approval process becomes easier, we predict more commercial companies will see the value of these operations and begin implementing them in their workflows.


Pierre-Alain Marchand is a regulatory compliance manager at senseFly , a commercial drone subsidiary of Parrot Group. For more information, visit the website or contact Marchand at regulatory@sensefly.com.

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