Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) & the FAA

Paladin gets BVLOS on behalf of each department it works with

Paladin is not a governing authority for aviation. Any subjective language is based on experience and should not be read as a rule or regulation. For exact rules, regulations, and information, please contact your local FAA representative and/or visit https://www.faa.gov.

This slide deck presented by Eileen Lockhart, Jennifer Player, Joey Neptune, Captain Kenneth Voiret, and more at AUVSI 2019 gives a concise summary of BVLOS. See news & media surrounding Paladin and BVLOS.

Drones as First Responders (DFR)

Drones as First Responders (DFR) utilizes drones to get eyes on an emergency before first responders arrive allowing them to gain vital situational awareness. The live video feed allows first responders to create a plan before arriving on site which allows them to act more efficiently and yield a safer result for both them and the people they are helping.

The traditional model of using a drone in public safety relies on having both a trained pilot and a drone on scene at an emergency. Once there, the drone is placed on the ground and the pilot flies it with the same goal in mind as DFR – to gain situational awareness for safer and more efficient emergency response. Where DFR improves on this model is by eliminating the link between the drones response time and the trained pilots response time. By autonomously deploying the drone, it can beat first responders to the scene and be used on thousands of 911 calls without needing to remove first responders from the situation.This makes it an effective force multiplier. Keep in mind however that DFR does not always replace the need for a trained pilot and is primarily used for overwatch as oppose to, for example, clearing a house.

In order to have an effective, long term DFR program, flying beyond visual line of sight is crucial. It allows the pilot in command (PIC) to fly the drone without maintaining eye contact opening up numerous operational and logistical advantages such as operating a fleet of drones from one centrally located command center. The following will outline what BVLOS is, why we believe its vital in ensuring entities can utilize the full benefits of DFR safely, and the process we at Paladin go through to get our partner departments all the waivers they need to maximize safe operations. 

What is flying Beyond Visual Line of Sight?

When an operator cannot see the aircraft, that is beyond their line of sight. In the scope of DFR, having this waiver allows for the teleoperator to be stationed anywhere. If the emergency is 50 miles away on the other side of a Sheriff departments county, a teleoperator is able to deploy and control a drone on that side of the county. Instead of relying on a trained pilot to bring a drone to that side of the county, BVLOS allows public safety officers to get safely and responsibly get eyes on a situation in a timely manner. 

Why is BVLOS Important?

Speaking from Paladin’s experience in getting BVLOS waivers, the entire process for obtaining one is focused around one common theme – safety. Specifically, the FAA has looked at how safe the technology is and whether the department has been educated and can safely operate BVLOS missions in accordance with the rules and regulations set forth by the FAA. Paladin has submitted multiple CONOPS to get BVLOS waivers for partner departments and has outlined the following in each one. Looking at the powerpoint used at AUVSI 2019 to explain BVLOS, it is clear that the FAA wants to know:

  • What is the airspace surrounding the area of operations like? What class is it? 
  • What kind of tech is being used? What are its built in fail-safes?
  • What risks does the department foresee in using this tech and how is it mitigating them?
  • Should something go wrong what is the procedure for handling it?

Through all of the information the FAA wants to collect and all the questions they ask, it is very clear that they want to ensure that:

  • The technology works and can safely operate within the guidelines of BVLOS one of which is limiting flight to a 3-mile radius from its home base
  • The department knows how to operate to the letter for safe missions including DAA and/or SAA with VO’s. 
  • The department has thought of all the risks involved and has a way to mitigate them. This last point is particularly important as it can be a simple yet dangerous error leaving out possible conflict points such as a hospital with a heliport.

How does Paladin's System ensure safe BVLOS Missions?

Our technology is safe and our departments are thoroughly prepared by us on how to operate safely. 

Paladin’s technology has a number of fail-safes within the system that help to mitigate the risk of flyaways. For example, if the drone loses connection for the cellular network for more than a few seconds, the drone automatically returns to home even if the video feed has cut out. In the event of a flyaway, the drone practices a controlled decent in which it gradually lowers to the ground.

One of the largest advantages to Paladin’s Knighthawk is its LTE connection which allows it to travel out to the 3-mile radius limit stipulated by the FAA. For this reason, there is not nearly as much of a risk for loss of connection as there are for radio-based drones. If a radio-based drone gets too far away from its connection point, it can lose video connection or even fall out of the sky. 

Paladin’s system does not have detect and avoid (DAA) systems onboard, so the FAA requires a different type of mitigation in place of that one to ensure the UAS does not crash into other airborne objects or ground-based structures and can deconflict should another aircraft enter the airspace. A common form of SAA mitigation uses visual observers (VO) to scan the airspace and maintain constant communication with the PIC. Because we have an LTE connection that is much less risky to fly out at 3 miles and because we can maintain a stable connection in areas with cell coverage, we are able to use a much more cost effective and logistically feasible VO solution. With radio-based UAS a model that some departments currently operate under requires a dedicated VO at the launch point of the aircraft during all flight hours. Multiple shifts requires multiple VO’s and multiple aircrafts require even more VO’s per shift. Logistically, departments must designate manpower for the purpose of being a VO and nothing else. Using Paladin’s Knighthawk, we have gotten multiple BLVOS waivers in which a network of VO’s acts as the primary mitigation. Instead of having to delegate manpower to a tertiary duty like being a permanent VO, whenever the UAS is being deployed, the network of VO’s remains in constant radio communication with the PIC to report any hazards the UAS may be in danger of or causing and help the system and/or PIC deconflict. This form of VO mitigation makes BVLOS and DFR a true force multiplier and much more cost effective.

All-in-all, DFR is about making out communities safer but without following these guidelines, the drones themselves may become a danger. As technology improves and more data is available for safe BVLOS operations, regulations will continue to evolve.