Regulatory breakthrough for US drone company’s autonomous operations

American drone services provider Percepto recently announced that the US Federal Aviation Administration will be treating the former’s autonomous drone operations as normal drone activity, which neither needs a human onsite nor does not need a special exemption dispensation of its own.

What this means is that Percepto is now legally allowed to operate Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (UAS) beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) without humans onsite of its drone hubs, eliminating a previous “burdensome” exemption process that has been required to enable remote pre-flight check under Part 107.    

Current US regulations for autonomous drone operations require preflight checks to be done physically by humans onsite at the drone hubs – except in cases where an operator has to obtain an exemption from the regulator.

In Percepto’s words, this development is certainly cause for the industry to celebrate; but while this is understandable, we are experiencing an internal conflict of whether this means that drone piloting, operating and monitoring has becoming one more occupation that humans need no longer apply for in these increasingly disruptive times.

There are industries that have found value in the integration of drone technology in their operations, but have allegedly been hampered by having incur extra costs through employing human pilots and operators to realise full effective in drone operations.

In this regard, some industry players have had to shelve drone adoption because they do not have the budget to pay additional manpower to operate or monitor the drones onsite.

The drone makers’ response has been to introduce drone nest solutions, and use the latest autonomous inspection technologies, one of which has brought about Percepto’s breakthrough with US aviation authorities at the FAA.

“To operate UAS BVLOS without humans onsite, the FAA has previously required both a Part 107 waiver approval and an exemption to fourteen CFR Sections 107.15 (condition for safe operation) and 107.49 (preflight familiarisation, inspection, and actions for aircraft operation),” the company said in a statement.

“An onerous rulemaking process, an FAA exemption typically takes years to approve and is disproportionate to the risk involved. There is also nothing in the text of Part 107 that requires pre-flight inspections to take place in person.

“Percepto demonstrated to the FAA that the company’s pre-flight inspection went above and beyond the FAA’s Part 107 requirements and therefore did not require an exemption.

“Percepto’s procedures include UAS inspection with cameras on and around the base and images to confirm safe deployment. Percepto proactively engaged with the FAA to address its questions, exceeding the FAA’s expectations of pre-flight inspection processes.”

Said Neta Gliksman, Percepto VP of Policy and Government Affairs; “Percepto is very grateful to the FAA staff for their engagement and consideration of our CONOPS and technical information to reach this ground-breaking result for Percepto and the broader UAS industry.

“In these circumstances, we are thrilled with an exemption denial. We look forward to continuing to work with the FAA as we bring the significant benefits of scalable BVLOS UAS operations to the US critical infrastructure industry.”


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