PENDLETON — The Federal Aviation Administration on May 9 granted the Pendleton Unmanned Aerial System Range a waiver for beyond visual line-of-sight operations. This allows drone flights without observers for the entire mission.
“We’ve opened a small corridor for true beyond visual line-of-sight flights, and have already flown some missions,” Range Manager Darryl Abling said.
This is the first step in obtaining full permission for beyond visual line-of-sight operations, he explained, and waivers are company-specific and for a single type of aircraft.
“It’s a crawl, walk, run process,” he said. “We’ll eventually expand the corridor of operation and add more beyond visual line-of-sight aircraft. We’ll go out and do flights within the parameters of each waiver.”
Abling said he envisions not only expanding operations to the range’s whole 14,000 square miles, but ultimately to the entire national airspace. Not just last mile delivery drones but pilotless passenger flights over cities are in the offing.
“It’s maybe 10 years out,” Abling predicted. “But it can’t just be a free for all. A national standard is going to emerge for detection and avoidance equipment to enable unobserved flights over populated areas.”
Abling said he expects manufacturers to cooperate in setting standards, with a role for the federal government.
“The existing air traffic control system on the ground should play a part,” he said. “But the onus will be on manufacturers to come up with standards. To be compliant, onboard equipment might need to detect a bumblebee at two miles. The technology is there. Once a detection and avoidance standard is agreed upon, then we can roll out implementation.”
He also said he looks forward to urban mobility corridors throughout the national airspace.
“For now, we’ll go fly where waivers permit,” he said. “It’s coming and we’re on the cutting edge. We’ll keep expanding our corridor.”
Volatus Group at Eastern Oregon Regional Airport is flying beyond visual line-of-sight drones on the range, Abling reported.
“It’s interesting to see the shape of the curve of flight operations here,” he said.
In April, the range had 1,900 flights, 2,300 in May and 4,500 in June, Abling said. A company is flying frequently to demonstrate robustness and reliability, so he said he expects a similar high number of operations as in June this month.
“Number of operations is one metric we look at,” Abling said. “We charge companies per flight day, not by number of individual operations. Another metric, which further indicates our growth, is number of companies invoiced per month. We invoiced 20 companies last month. Some are bigger than others, but they all count.”
Pendleton UAS Range just signed a new company, Abling said, and he expects another next week. The range employs 150 workers.
“We’re growing by all metrics,” he concluded.
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