Drone Operations in the United States
Since 2016, the FAA has allowed commercial drone operations within restricted areas for operators who have obtained a Part 107 license. Those restrictions include:
- Must fly below 400 feet
- Must stay within unassisted visual line of sight (VLOS)
- No flight over people
- No night flight
- No flights within five miles of an airport without permission (which can be obtained automatically in the 3DR Site Scan app via the LAANC service)
- One operator per vehicle
These are quite limiting in a number of respects:
- No flight over people means that even in a closed worksite such as a construction site, drone operations must occur before or after the workday
- No flights Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) eliminates most missions surveying
- Linear infrastructure such as powerlines, railway tracks, and long roads, as well as drone delivery
- The BVLOS restriction plus the 1:1 operator-to-drone requirement eliminates most of the potential economic efficiencies of autonomous and unattended operations
The 3DR Solution
In the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Bill, Congress mandated that the FAA streamline its aircraft certification process to reflect the fact that aircraft are now more software than hardware and thus can and should change more rapidly than the existing code line-by-line certification allowed.
To do this, Congress required the FAA to develop a process of “performance-based” certification, where the vehicle is treated as a “black box” and just tested to ensure it conforms to a set of performance requirements, thus allowing aircraft manufacturers to continue to improve the aircraft’s software without having to recertify it with every update. Since this is quite a radical change, the FAA wants to start this experiment with the lowest-risk vehicles under its jurisdiction, which means small unmanned drones.
In response to this need, the FAA has established a “Partnership for Safety” public-private partnership with Dronecode to certify Dronecode’s testing process as the model for the FAA’s performance-based standards.
3DR leads the way for sUAS Type Certification
3DR, a founding member of Dronecode, leads the testing process and our drone, the 3DR H520-G, will be the first UAV to be certified by the FAA under this process.
This historic “Type Certification” will allow the 3DR H520-G to be treated as any other FAA-certified aircraft, which is to say that they will be permitted to fly outside of Part 107 restrictions, including flight over people, BVLOS and night flight.
This Type Certification, expected in Q1 2020, will vastly simplify H520-G customer operations, potentially opening the way to unattended autonomous operations in low-population areas, thus unlocking the true economic potential of robotic flight and breaking the crippling 1:1 human-to-drone ratio.