FAA approves first BVLOS certification, Amazon following suit

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The FAA has approved the first commercial drone flight for beyond visual line of site operation – where operators control drones for commercial operations remotely - for The University of Alaska, Fairbanks drone inspection flights.

Prior to this, operators were required to fly all drones where they could see them.

The University of Alaska, Fairbanks sought approval from the FAA to fly drone inspection flights for the Trans-Alaskan oil pipeline with no human involvement, according to Engadget.

Cathy Cahill, the director of the university’s drone program, told Reuters that the BVLOS flights are crucial for inspection operations in Alaska due to lack of roads in remote areas.

Following this news, Amazon submitted a petition to the FAA to allow beyond line of site drone delivery operations for its upcoming Prime Air service. The online commerce company is looking to receive the exemption prior to getting its certificate of airworthiness.

Amazon was granted experimental certification in 2012 to develop and iterate different aircraft designs and --according to the petition letter – considered developing a VTOL before eventually finalising its MK27 drone.

“Prime Air is confident our autonomous systems will achieve demonstrable levels of safety and reliability equivalent to operations that currently rely on certificated airmen with manned-flight experience. At the same time, given the newness of emergent unmanned business cases we believe in a stepwise approach to introducing operations into the NAS that builds public trust in our systems and confidence with regulatory partners.”

This would not be the first time the FAA has certified a drone-delivery service. In April, the FAA gave the go-ahead for Google’s own drone-delivery platform Alphabet to start its services later this year. The company previously tested its delivery service in Australia.