Countries worldwide are amending their drone policies so that they can introduce drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into real-world commercial use, such as inspecting and gathering data over large swaths of land like railroads, utility lines, and farms with maximum efficiency and productivity.
However, many current regulatory schemes prevent drones from operating beyond the Visual Line Of Sight (VLOS), hampering “the next big opportunity” for commercial drone operators, since many applications are impossible to execute without Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS or BLOS).
Unlocking the full potential of commercial drones, therefore, require regulators to allow drones to fly BVLOS, which can enable businesses to replace traditional, more expensive methods such as helicopters and satellites and reap three key benefits: improved safety, accuracy, and efficiency.
Before we look at the benefits and the commercial applications of BVLOS drones, let’s first discuss some of the fundamental terminologies and principles of flying unmanned aircraft systems in nonsegregated airspace. All remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) operations are currently structured around two major concepts: VLOS and beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS).
What is Visual Line Of Sight (VLOS)?
Visual Line Of Sight (VLOS) means that the Remote Pilot in Command (PIC) must maintain direct visual contact with the unmanned aircraft at all times during a flight. This means an un-aided natural vision of the vehicle, except for prescription glasses or sunglasses, where no binoculars, telescopes, or zoom lenses are used to see the UAVs. The rule also prescribes a distance for VLOS up to 500 meters horizontally from the remote pilot. This also means not flying an unmanned aircraft into clouds or fog, not behind trees, buildings, or other [even partial] obstructions.
What is Extended Visual Line Of Sight (EVLOS)?
Extended Visual Line Of Sight (EVLOS) refers to an operating method whereby the pilot relies on one or more trained observers to keep the unmanned aircraft in visual sight at all times. The observers communicate critical flight information through the radio and assist the PIC in maintaining a safe distance from other aerial vehicles (manned and unmanned). EVLOS requires more advanced flight-crew experience, coordination, communications, and communications infrastructure.
What is Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS or BLOS)?
Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) operations means flying an unmanned aircraft without the Remote Pilot, keeping a visual line of sight on the UAVs at all times. Instead, the Remote Pilot flies the aircraft by instruments from a Remote Pilot Station (RPS) instrument.
Commercial businesses that utilize BVLOS drone operations can significantly reduce expenses and maximize their investment in drone technologies. According to a case study by Precision Hawk, for instance, an electric utility company that inspects 10,000 miles of power lines a year would save $1.7 million in the first year of operation, a saving that could amount to $9 million over five years. With a manned helicopter, the costs range from $40-$700 per mile, whereas, with a BVLOS drone, the cost ranges from $10-$25 per mile of inspection. These potential savings could be applied to many more businesses across various industries.
Benefits of BVLOS drone operations
- BVLOS flights are autonomous. Controlled by data provided by onboard instruments, UAVs flying BVLOS can change flight parameters, depending on position, altitude, speed, and direction of flight.
- With BVLOS flights, companies can cover long distances – between 20 and 30 miles a day, and collect high-quality data more quickly than traditional means.
- BVLOS drone operations allow companies to save money to reinvest, innovate, and create more jobs.
- BVLOS is cost-effective.
- It enables service providers to conduct complex drone operations without human interference.
- BVLOS allows a drone to collect more data in fewer deployments.
- It significantly reduces the risk of accidents.
- It prevents humans from being placed in a dangerous situation, either removing them from an aircraft or a hazardous area.