Aviation regulators worldwide are improving their drone regulations to allow commercial drones to operate Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS), or out of the remote pilot's direct line of sight for maximum efficiency.
Drones can travel much further with BVLOS, which has many uses, such as in the surveillance of wide areas while costing less than manned helicopters and aeroplanes. Drone flights are also lower, which is ideal for high-resolution data collection. Furthermore, drones can also reduce the risks of entering areas difficult to access by ground crew.
While you might have heard of successful and legal BVLOS operations in some countries, applying for authorisation in Malaysia can be challenging. This is also similar across most nations in the world.
As with much other new technology, drone technology is evolving and developing much faster than existing regulations.
The aviation industry is generally cautious and conservative – and rightly so. Uncontrolled flights will put the public and essential infrastructure at risk, and civil aviation authorities must ensure that drones do not collide with other aircraft that share the same public airspace.
The Civil Aviation Regulation requires that drones stay within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS). This means that you must be able to see your drone in the skies, and actually know which way it is facing.
This requirement stems from the history of mid-air collisions of aircraft before the development of civil aviation regulations and civil aviation authorities. Over the years, numerous safety measures have been placed, including requiring every aircraft’s pilot to “see and avoid” other aircraft. Of course, this rule was also applied to drones.
However, with BVLOS operations, you can’t apply this rule since you won’t be able to see your drone anymore. With this rule, applications such as linear infrastructure, inspection, drone delivery, or pipeline inspection are almost impossible.
One way around this rule is to obtain authorisation from the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM).
To obtain authorisation, you need to demonstrate to CAAM that you have sufficient alternative methods to identify other aircraft and prevent crashes. You will also need to prove that you have applied mitigations to the operation risks identified and that you are competent to the standards of CAAM.
Remote pilots must have additional training to fly drones in BVLOS. During training, they must learn about navigation, meteorology, flight performance, flight planning, and safety rules. These knowledge and skillsets are necessary due to the increased capabilities of the unmanned aircraft system.
Many different stakeholders within and out of the drone industry are likely to have their perspectives in terms of set ways to mitigate the risks posed by BVLOS operations.
The biggest challenge is the specificity and wide variety of drone operations. There is also the financial challenge of investing in collision avoidance equipment.
Drone operators will also need to evaluate the safety of each flight, reliability of communication, data privacy concerns and the accuracy of navigation. It is difficult for aviation regulators to also deep dive into such a wide range of operations and technology.
While we want to make the most out of drone technology, we have to consider the safety needs of other users in our airspace.
Balancing between safety needs and the benefits of BVLOS operations is challenging for regulators around the world.
However, if we look across different nations where there is a slow but steady increase in BVLOS approvals, we are confident that we will also be seeing more positive regulatory changes in Malaysia that support the growth of the drone industry.
Author: Erin Hoo