You Can’t See What You Can’t See

Ever since the dawn of civilization, man has wanted to know what was beyond the horizon.  In fact, almost every advancement in transportation technology throughout human history has been driven by people trying to find the answer to the questions of just what is over that next hill, and how do we get to it.

If you fly a UAS in the United States, the FAA’s official position is, don’t concern yourself about what is over the hill, just keep your eyes locked on your UAS. The FAA has officially banned hobbyists from conducting any flights beyond visual line-of-sight, and has further prohibited the use of First Person View (FPV) technology that allows the pilot to virtually occupy the UAS. Similarly, the FAA has made clear that it will only be considering Section 333 petitions for commercial UAS flights where the operator or an observer has a visual line of sight to the aircraft at all times.

Five centuries ago, Spain was at the forefront of exploring what was over the horizon. This week, Spain once again resumed its leading position.  The Spanish conducted their first “beyond line-of-sight” (BLOS) commercial flight under new regulations covering certain areas that have segregated airspace.  The BLOS flights are conducted by UASs with a transponder, and involve both the cooperation of the local air traffic control center and the Control Center in Seville, which manages air traffic for the southern half of Spain.  In addition to helping develop BLOS commercial applications, the new regulations are expected to aid in the development of more sophisticated technologies and procedures for full integration of BLOS flights into Spanish airspace.

Stories such as this bring home the sad reality of how far behind American UAS operations are compared to Canada and many countries in Europe.  As we previously wrote, Canada has had a well-established procedure to authorize commercial UAS flights for some time now, while the US has yet to issue either official guidance on the Section 333 process or formal UAS rules.  The US, however, does have a tremendous aviation technology base and hopefully, the lost ground can be made up quickly.  If it can’t, however, people in North America will have to be prepared to face the unpleasant possibility that the latest technology will once again appear from over the horizon from Spain.

(Originally posted August 22, 2014)

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