Flying beyond visual line of sight: what you need to know about BVLOS waivers and docked drones

April 18, 2024

With the recent launch of the DJI Dock 2, it’s increasingly clear that docked drones are becoming the tool of choice for companies looking to get more value from their reality capture operations.

These “drone in a box” solutions can be deployed with a push of a button for round-the-clock reality capture that delivers three to five times more data than manned drones. And because docked drones are permanently on site, there’s no need to charge batteries, swap SD cards, or even find the right location for takeoff and landing. 

What’s more, when you pair your docked drone with DroneDeploy’s Dock Automation solution, you no longer have to manually navigate obstacles, map locations or optimize camera angles on drone missions ever again.

Yet due to the rising popularity of enterprise-grade drones, in recent years the FAA has granted Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) waivers that exempt pilots from keeping drones within their physical view during missions. With this waiver, pilots can now operate drones remotely, similar to a parent relying on a nanny cam instead of hovering over their child’s crib.

This is our guidance on common questions and protocols surrounding how your team can secure a BVLOS waiver: 

What is BVLOS? 

Relevant to the docked drone discussion are Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations, which allow pilots to fly missions from off-site locations. Because docked drones are built to be self-sufficient with minimal human intervention, they are a logical choice for BVLOS operations. 

And while docked drones are valuable even without a BVLOS waiver, DroneDeploy views BVLOS operations as the next phase in reality capture, as it enables teams to fly more missions while spending less time traveling to job sites.

Unfortunately, operating a docked drone beyond its pilot’s line of sight runs counter to FAA regulations, which require pilots to maintain direct visual observation of their drone at all times. A BVLOS waiver solves this problem.

How can I apply?

To obtain a BVLOS waiver, you must first establish specific docked drone protocols. This includes thinking through how the pilot will be able to monitor the drone’s position, how the docked drone will detect – and be detected by – other aircraft, and other emergency procedures.

If this seems overwhelming, don’t worry: the FAA has approved several hundred waivers since 2019, and DroneDeploy has worked closely with our customers to help establish the right protocols to become compliant.

What are the internal processes my team needs to develop if I want to scale to BVLOS?

Most companies start docked drone operations by flying with a pilot on site to build both your confidence and a track record of safety. 

This approach follows the FAA’s Part 107 operational requirements, which stipulate that the pilot in command (or another observer in direct communication with the pilot) maintain visual contact with the drone while in flight. 

And considering the FAA grants BVLOS waivers on a case-by-case basis, those applicants who have proven they can safely conduct remote flight operations are a step ahead in the process.

How can DroneDeploy help with the application process?

As part of our integrated platform, DroneDeploy provides advice and resources so companies can manage their BVLOS waivers. We do this in two ways: 

  • for organizations looking to get flying quickly with the DJI Dock 1 or 2, DroneDeploy can walk you through a simple process to complete your waiver application.
  • for full-service application support, our regulatory services can assess and help you design and document what is specifically needed for your BVLOS operations. 

Contact a DroneDeploy sales associate to start your application process.

What are the different types of BVLOS waivers?

One of the main reasons that the FAA requires direct observation of drone operations is to avoid drones interfering with piloted aircraft.  

Since piloted aircraft are generally prohibited from flying too close to the ground or ground-based objects (e.g. buildings and trees), the FAA usually grants BVLOS waivers for “shielded” operations (i.e. those that take place close to the ground). 

The two types of shield-operational waivers we most often see our customers obtain are:

  • Standard Shielded 

This type of waiver, common to energy and inspection, covers drones that are always shielded by infrastructure and must be within 50 feet of infrastructure or the ground.

  • Non-Critical Infrastructure Shielded 

Used for construction and mapping, this waiver allows for BVLOS operations in areas that have ground obstructions located within a half-mile of the drone.

BVLOS term to know: Operational volume

Operational volume consists of the area a docked drone is permitted to fly. In this example taken from a shielded, non-critical infrastructure BVLOS waiver, the docked drone’s operational volume extends 50 feet above the highest obstruction within 0.5 miles and has a hard ceiling of 400 feet above ground level. 

How does DroneDeploy help me operate a docked drone remotely?

DroneDeploy has built several safeguards into our platform so you can protect your people and property at all times during docked drone flights. 

Our real-time flight controls can pause any mission in progress and either hover in place to assess the situation or return to its dock.  

Customized geofencing keeps your docked drone within its approved operating space, while ABS-B notifies you of any aircraft in proximity to your operating area. 

Our low latency telemetry from dock to drone provides situational awareness at all times – even in areas with low connectivity. And pre-flight checks ensure your dock, aircraft, and weather conditions are all safe to fly.

What are my next steps?

Contact a DroneDeploy representative today to begin your docked drone journey. We’ve helped our customers fly over two million flights in the past year — and we’re excited to help you get your next one off the ground.

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