FAA Approves Inspection Drone Swarms


It would appear drone swarms have come to civil aviation with the FAA’s granting of a waiver to an Israeli company. According to DroneDJ, the FAA is allowing Percepto to fly up to 30 drones under the control of a single pilot beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). The company specializes in infrastructure and pipeline inspections, and the ability to team up the drones will greatly increase the efficiency of those operations according to the company. That, Percepto says, will make the services more affordable and increase the safety of works like pipelines and power transmission lines.

“Simply put, with large-scale remote inspections we’ll see fewer large-scale safety and environmental failures across critical infrastructure,” Percepto Chief Commercial Officer Ariel Avitan said. The “drone-in-a-box” aircraft it sells are fully autonomous and operate under the pilot’s supervision. They also have software that allows them to autonomously inspect the stuff they fly over. Avitan called the waiver “the last piece of the remote operations puzzle.”

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. Pipelines and power lines that can’t be inspected by other means are typically in sparsely populated areas. Initially “drone swarms” should be restricted to such areas until some safety data can be accrued over a trial period.

  2. And then there are those such as myself who fly non-electrical antique aircraft from their private air strips in the country located yards away from a pipeline corridor. The very aircraft without an alternator or battery that cannot equip with ADS-B “out” due to the always on requirement of the ADS-B regulation. Birds are bad enough with their brains, eyes and millions of years of evolution. Will antique and classic aircraft be taken down by the said beyond-line-of-sight drone swarms?

    • Progress is merely movement in a forward direction, not necessarily something better. On the other hand, life and time are dynamic and changing, and require change and adaptation to survive. Five years ago as I was admiring the cockpit of the EAA B-17, I noted that two Garmin 530’s had been installed on the panel, and a portable Garmin GPS was sitting above the windshield.

    • The answer is NO. Because we must make certain any such drone “swarm” is operated in airspace that is reasonable for its mission, in other words, very close to the ground or objects being surveyed, and very close lateral separation. If drone guidance is as precise as advertised, it should be no problem at all to keep them out of airspace in general use by aircraft with human occupants. Geofencing etc is a thing now. Drone operators should operate under FARs that specifically address the safety of HUMAN aviators. And human aviators should never be required to alter their standard practices or concede airspace for or to UAVs. What about it, FAA?

  3. I also have flown with those pilot flying vintage aircraft. They claim to be purists wanting to keep their aircraft all original. In reality, they are just being cheap.

    I do not miss hand prop aircraft one bit. Nor keeping my cellphone charged up. I also like position lights, strobes, and a few other items that I’ve become accustomed to over the years.

    • What a stunningly uninformed opinion. In your world, I suppose that bicyclists should be required to have motors so they don’t interfere with your need to blast down back roads on the way to your very important destination.

      There is airspace where the density of traffic necessitates ATC control, and there is the vast majority of it that does not. If you think that having lights and a fully-charged cellphone will keep you from having a mid-air, the data suggests that you are deluded.

      My concern is that the coverage of this issue is peculiarly airplane-centric. I fly a personal helicopter at 500′ agl, often less. That is legal, and sometimes necessary. The proliferation of UAV’s, and now swarms of them, scares the bejeezus out of me. They are totally invisible until they come through my canopy, so telling pilots to “see-and-avoid” is as effective as telling sailors not to get drunk on shore leave.

      UAVs, much less swarms of them, should not be allowed in any part of the NAS where it is legal for human flight, unless they are equipped with effective, and demonstrated, see&avoid technology. If the drone is dumber than a turkey buzzard, it doesn’t belong in the NAS, “remotely piloted” or not, and certain not BVLOS.

  4. Had a battery ADS-B in and out in my non electric Aeronca Chief. Im a vintage kinda guy. But loved those items. Was so happy to get to see what amazing technology is now available for such inexpensive prices. Still had to hand prop though.

  5. I see no reason why a drone on powerline patrol cannot do the job from an altitude LOWER than the top of the towers. So if they are required to do so, one potential conflict scenario is eliminated. Let’s see a reg to that effect.

  6. If pilots are flying so close to powerlines to be worried about the drones, I think you should be worried about the powerlines instead.

  7. I had no idea so many pilots conduct their operations below powerline drone inspection altitudes, which will be, what? Maybe 200′ AGL?

  8. I am curious about what happens if the operator loses contact with one or more of the drones? Does the AI take over and return to base, or maybe land right there and wait for someone to come pick them up? What kind of data is the operator receiving during operation? Can he “see” what any of the drones see? Lots of questions.

    • I have a four year old “near toy” drone, originally on sale for €900, bought for €150 off the internet (prices have gone up since the Russian war on Ukraine.) It is up to me, to decide what happens if the strong WiFi (yes it is WiFi) signal is lost, either return to where it was launched from, return to another programmed destination, or to stop and hover. And when it returns, whether it hovers or lands.
      My drone is fitted with a camera roughly equivalent to an iPhone, which can fil 4k, so you see what you point it at. The “pro” version has a camera able to identify individuals from 4 km a way… For crops or pipeline stuff, you would get a programme to generate an image showing unusual infra red or UV colour patterns (early warning of disease) heat, or reflectivity.
      Batteries remain the main limiting factor — I imagine for a swarm pipe line job they will drive along in the morning dropping off drones every 10 km or so, fly them all at once and have them land the next one along’s take off site, then drive back and pick them up. Data treated by computer with alerts if puddle of oil seen… Not the most glamorous job but then flying helicopters up and down pipelines drives pilots mad with boredom too.. From what I can gather the money is now in inspecting electricity grids, and the wifi signals are strong enough not to be bothered by radiation from transformer farms.

  9. I’m surprised that no one is commenting about the drones being required to ‘sniff’ airplanes out and avoid them. uAvionix has an interesting article about ADS-B being “Drone Repellent” in a Nov 7, 2023 article. They’re wanting to build a small box about the size of an ADS-B ‘in’ unit that would transmit “Electronic Conspicuity” signals for airplanes not equipped with ADS-B out. EVERYONE here needs to read it: