How Type Certification Affects BVLOS Drone Operations
Long established as an important process in manned aviation, type certification has recently begun to come to the forefront in the drone industry, as the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced steps to be taken towards issuing type certificates for UAS (unmanned aerial systems) as special classes of aircraft.
FAA Type Certificate
FAA-issued type certification for a particular model of aircraft confirms that the manufacturer has met particular standards of safety that are deemed necessary for operating in the National Airspace System (NAS). For manned aircraft, this is a long and exacting process that can cost many millions of dollars, and once complete, means that every identical aircraft created by the manufacturer is automatically certified.
Unsurprisingly, the rules and regulations for manned aircraft do not have a one-to-one overlap with drones. A significant part of the rigorous detail of type certification revolves around the transporting of people, and so without these requirements, the process for UAS has the potential to be more streamlined.
Currently, the FAA is taking a more risk- and performance-based approach to UAS certification, defining outcomes that must be achieved rather than a list of technical requirements to be met. The exact criteria are more flexible and tailored on a case-by-case basis towards each particular drone platform, its level of complexity of its operations, and the level of risk involved. The approach will allow the innovation cycle for UAS manufacturers to be significantly shorter than that of manned aircraft.
How type certification will drive the drone industry
Currently, many small drones operating at low altitudes within visual line of sight (VLOS) have been deemed as low-risk by the FAA. Under Part 107 regulations, these aircraft do not require a license to operate recreationally, or for the pilot to pass a test in order to undertake commercial operations.
Drones that weigh more than 55 lbs., or that wish to operate beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), require further certification. Currently, this may be granted in the form of a waiver, but the process to obtain these waivers is a complicated one, and will not be scalable as the industry matures.
BVLOS flights are one of the keys to unlocking the full potential of the drone industry. Allowing UAVs to operate beyond the visual range of the pilot will allow longer flights and coverage of greater areas, and cutting humans out of the loop entirely via full autonomy will drive operating costs down even further.
Adoption of BVLOS operations enables a wide range of use cases, and makes them commercially viable. These applications include package delivery, precision agriculture, long-range inspection, and much more. Type certification will play an essential part of the process by which commercial BVLOS drone platforms can be developed safely and reliably, and integrated into the NAS in an efficient and scalable way.
Essential type certification elements for safe BVLOS flight
While the type certification process for commercial UAVs is currently fluid and not set in stone, we know that airworthiness criteria, based on rigorous safety standards, will form a crucial part. The FAA has already issued proposed airworthiness criteria for ten applicants, including Amazon, Flirtey and 3D Robotics, that if met could lead the way to full type certification. Additionally, the FAA Aviation Rulemaking Committee just released a report on UAS BVLOS operations, which further outlines some of the requirements for BVLOS flight.
For BVLOS drones, one of the key features that the FAA, as well as other aviation regulation bodies around the world, will want to see is a robust communication solution. This is crucial no matter whether your drone platform will operate in urban areas, where failure may result in injury and property damage, or rural and remote areas, where connection may be sparse or network connection may change often.
This system must be able to provide command and control as well as data transfer with a high level of reliability and redundancy, with uptime that is close to 100%. Security is also an essential consideration, as many drone applications will involve transferring of large amounts of sensitive data over public communications networks.
Elsight and Type Certification
Elsight’s Halo platform provides all the features that are essential for a safe and certifiable BVLOS drone connectivity solution. Powered by our proprietary 6th Sense communication technology, it offers advanced secure bonding that aggregates up to four cellular links from multiple providers, together with other IP links including RF and satellite communications.
Halo simultaneously uses all of the provided channels as one bonded link, automatically balancing traffic among the bonded networks to the links that are most ideal for the drone’s particular requirements and per the link’s capacity. This powerful functionality provides the redundancy and failover that is essential for long-range drone operations. Halo can also choose networks based on preferred network, minimum bandwidth, or any other custom preference determined by the drone operator.
The Halo hardware is highly compact and lightweight, providing minimal impact on the SWaP (size, weight and power) budget of the aircraft, while also providing support for 5G network connectivity and Remote ID as required by the FAA. This lowers the energy footprint of your bvlos drone operations, and allows resources to be diverted towards other essential criteria such as flight endurance and sensor operation.
The 4 Steps of the EASA Type-certification Process for Manufactures
- Technical Familiarization and Certification Basis
- Establishment of the Certification Program
- Compliance Demonstration
- Technical Closure and Issue of Approval
Elsight is highly experienced in working with certifiable drone platforms. Airobotics, developers of a pilotless drone solution and who offer an end-to-end, fully automated platform for collecting aerial data are just one example of a company we are working with who are on the path to FAA type certification with the Halo onboard. We can help you navigate the regulatory hurdles and the ever-changing landscape of the BVLOS drone industry – please get in touch to get started today!