COVID-19 has prompted the FAA to loosen its notoriously tight restrictions on drones flying beyond visual line of site (BVLOS). DroneDJ is reporting that an oil and gas company has been granted a waiver to conduct remote inspection flights because of virus-related restrictions on staff activities. What’s more, the FAA approved the exemption within 24 hours, suggesting a nimbleness that was previously unheard of. The waiver is contingent on the effects of virus restrictions and expires June 30, 2020, or as soon as federal or state COVID-19 control measures allow for conventional inspection methods.
BVLOS is the holy grail for drone operations and will be fundamental for most of the business uses envisioned. But the FAA is moving deliberately on that and everything else to do with integrating drones into the airspace and has been particularly parsimonious with BVLOS exemptions to Part 107, the regulations governing drones. Since the regulations were enacted in 2016, the FAA has allowed 4,000 waivers, the vast majority of them for visible night operations. Just 53 have been issued for BVLOS and none of the previous waivers have been granted in such a short time. “The question is whether this waiver was a one-off, or if the urgency of the pandemic lead to a more flexible, fast-moving approval process at the FAA,” the publication wrote.