Concept for beyond visual line-of-sight drone operations trialled

by Michelle Gordon
for beyond visual line of sight

The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has given sees.ai permission to trial a concept for routine beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone operations.

The BVLOS command & control solution developer is the first company in the UK to secure authorisation from the CAA as part of a test project to prove the concept ahead of potentially opening it up to the wider market.

sees.ai will be able to fly drones BVLOS at three nominated sites without needing to pre-authorise each flight. The flights must occur under 150ft and initially require an observer to remain in visual line of sight with the aircraft and be in a position to communicate with the remote pilot if necessary.

By testing the concept in industrial environments for inspection, monitoring and maintenance purposes, sees.ai aims to prove the safety of its system before extending it to address more challenging missions. Data gathered from these test flights will be used to consider the success of the operations and whether the risk and hazard assessments can be used to cover generic risks beyond the three trial sites.

David Tait, head of innovation at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “Our innovation team was set up to meet the rapid pace of technological advances in the UK, so to see businesses like sees.ai thriving and creating world-leading solutions that will benefit infrastructure and markets is really exciting.

“We are proud to have played our part in sustaining the UK’s position as one of the greatest locations in the world for innovative companies.”

Unless they have specific permissions, all other drone operators must keep their aircraft within line of sight and follow the drone code.

This scheme was delivered under guidance from the UK CAA Innovation Sandbox which was set up in May 2019 to create an environment where innovation in aviation can be explored in line with CAA core principles of safety, security and consumer protection. sees.ai, whose senior team includes former Arup, Apple, CERN, McLaren and hedge fund employees was one of the first entities selected into the Sandbox in September 2019.

John McKenna, CEO at sees.ai said: “We are accelerating towards a future where drones fly autonomously at scale – high up alongside manned aviation and low down inside our industrial sites, suburbs and cities. Securing this UK-first permission is a major step on this journey which will deliver big benefits to society across public health & safety, efficiency and environmental impact. We are hugely grateful to the CAA’s innovation & regulatory teams for their support and guidance in helping us reach this significant milestone and we look forward to working with them as we continue to advance what’s safe and possible.”

sees.ai is leading a project, within phase 2 of UK Research & Innovation’s Future Flight Challenge, to enable commercial BVLOS drone services at scale alongside manned aviation. Backed by government grant funding and supported by technical partners including NATS, BAE Systems, Vodafone, Met Office, Flock Cover and the University of Bristol’s Smart Internet Lab, the project will put sees.ai’s BVLOS solution in the hands of drone service providers, TerraDrone and SkyFutures, to address ten increasingly challenging trials with end-clients including Skanska, Atkins and Skanska Costain STRABAG working in partnership with HS2.

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