August 19 2020

Celebrating the FAA’s Tactical BVLOS Announcement for Public Safety Agencies

Brendan Groves

Today we are celebrating the FAA’s announcement that every public safety agency can apply to conduct the game-changing Tactical Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations that Skydio pioneered in partnership with the Chula Vista Police Department (CVPD). This news means that appropriately authorized public safety agencies nationwide can send drones into areas that are too dangerous to send people. Whether performing search and rescue, de-escalating hostile situations, or responding to national disasters, first responders across the country will be better equipped to protect the public. In this blog, we will highlight the Chula Vista Police Department’s pioneering work to secure this waiver; explain the nature of the operation; and offer our insight on the technology, training and tools designed to make this new authority work for your agency.

Honoring the Chula Vista Police Department’s Leadership

We applaud the FAA for enabling every agency to benefit from these unique and forward-leaning operations. We also want to acknowledge those who made this possible. As we have discussed in previous blogs, the tactical BVLOS authorization traces its roots to CVPD’s collaboration with Skydio in the San Diego UAS Integration Pilot Program. CVPD received the first Tactical BVLOS waiver in the country earlier this summer. One of the most innovative drone programs in the nation, CVPD were early adopters of Skydio 2 and its signature autonomy system. CVPD found that Skydio’s autonomy technology made urban flights much easier and safer — especially when flying beyond line of sight. As CVPD Captain Vern Sallee pointed out, “Skydio 2’s autonomy lets the drone fly itself, and lets my cops be cops.” CVPD now trains its teams to use Skydio 2 in response to emergency scenarios where tactical situational awareness can shave response times and save lives.

To help CVPD conduct its mission more efficiently than ever before, our Head of Policy and Regulatory Affairs, Brendan Groves, and Head of Public Safety, Fritz Reber, worked closely with Chula Vista’s experienced team to craft a ground-breaking waiver application. We were honored to work with CVPD in the development of the safety case for Tactical BVLOS flights and thrilled to see the FAA grant a waiver to our partners after months of effort.

Understanding Tactical BVLOS Operations

We are especially excited to see the FAA enable every agency around the country to benefit from these unique operations. It is very rare for the FAA to take a waiver granted to a specific operator in a specific part of the country and make it available to any operator, anywhere in the country. But that is exactly what happened. We think that is a credit to the incredibly strong safety case developed in partnership with CVPD.

These missions make a single pilot far more useful and enable near-immediate response to emergencies that would benefit from situational awareness. When responding to emergencies, first responders operating drones often want to fly the drone just beyond line of sight and behind obstacles. Until now, those missions were only possible with specific waivers that took months of work to obtain. Now, first responders can conduct those missions as a matter of course, provided they update their Certificate of Authorization (COAs) accordingly.

Key features: According to the FAA’s newly released guidance, Tactical BVLOS operations (TBVLOS)

  • Must be conducted under a Certificate of Authorization (COA) (more on this below);
  • During emergency situations in order to safeguard human life; and
  • When operating beyond visual line of sight, the aircraft must remain within 1,500 feet of the pilot and no higher than 50 feet above structures, without exceeding 400 feet above ground level.
Note: This graphic showcases the operational construct of Tactical BVLOS operations and the incredible flexibility and reach it provides to first responders.

Importantly, TBVLOS operations may be conducted in “controlled airspace as long as they don’t exceed the UAS Facility Map altitude values.” LAANC authorization is not required. Also, operations at night are allowed, provided that agencies follow the night operations section of their COA.

How to Apply: The FAA’s official guidance on TBVLOS provides a two-step application process.

  1. Submit a request for TBVLOS authorization to the FAA using the following email address: 9-UAS-91.113Waivers@faa.gov. “The request should include: Your concept of operations (including operational area and UAS information) highlighting the required conditions as describe[d] in this resource document; [and] Your existing Part 91 COA number.”
  2. Once your concept of operations is approved, you will be instructed to submit through the COA Application Process system (CAPS https://caps.faa.gov) for the TBVLOS 91.113(b) waiver.

Skydio Autonomy Helps to Enable Safe and Effective Tactical BVLOS

If you’re reading this blog, you are probably responsible for your agency’s drone program. You need to know how to safely and effectively implement this new authority. We’re here to help with two straightforward recommendations.

First, ensure your agency uses drones that minimize the risks of conducting complex BVLOS operations close to structures and the ground. BVLOS missions naturally increase the risk profile of the mission, placing far greater burdens on your pilots, who will be flying a drone close to obstacles, beyond visual line of sight, in the midst of an emergency. You need a drone that gives your pilots confidence that they won’t crash, allowing them to focus on the mission while the drone focuses on the flying. You need a drone that turns every pilot into an expert pilot.

As discussed above, there is a reason that CVPD and other agencies trust Skydio drones to complete these complex missions. Skydio takes the pressure off their pilots, who gain tremendous confidence by relying on industry leading obstacle avoidance capability powered by six 4K navigation cameras and a revolutionary set of AI algorithms (see this blog for further details). The Civil Air Patrol’s National UAS Program Manager, Austin Worcester, has seen this value firsthand. According to Austin, “Skydio’s autonomy capabilities allowed us to perform better operations, more efficiently. Their trustworthy obstacle avoidance makes it possible for us to do flights at low-altitude and in complex urban environments that we would otherwise not be able to perform.” Conduct Tactical BVLOS missions with Skydio drones and your pilots will thank you. So will your leadership, who will be less likely to deal with the cost of replacing drones damaged by pilot error when conducting Tactical BVLOS operations. Skydio Autonomy will be a critical partner in executing the new class of missions the FAA has made available to public safety pilots in today’s announcement.

Second, to save time, expense, and hassle, you need a partner who can help your team conduct these advanced operations with ease. Skydio engineered the first Tactical BVLOS authorization, and we can help your program take advantage of this breakthrough capability. Skydio is more than a technology provider; we are an experienced partner with the expertise and resources to help your program every step of the way.

To ensure your agency is prepared to conduct these operations safely and efficiently, you can partner with Skydio to receive:

  1. Training on Tactical BVLOS operations: Skydio’s experts can train your team on the fundamentals of BVLOS operations in the public safety context. Former CVPD Captain Fritz Reber pioneered many of the tactics critical for conducting safe and effective public safety BVLOS operations. Fritz and other experts at Skydio can provide those same lessons to your team, giving you and your leadership peace of mind.
  2. Regulatory support: Skydio can assist with the process of receiving approval for your agency to conduct this new class of operations. Let us lighten your load. Our team of experts includes the former heads of the nation’s leading drone programs, including the U.S. Department of Justice, CVPD, and major enterprise programs like American Tower.

We look forward to working hand-in-hand with first responders and the FAA to help this class of operations take flight. To learn more about our work with first responders, please see our previous blogs on Skydio X2 and Skydio AI for Situational Awareness — and if you’re ready to add autonomy to your own operations or want our help with training or regulatory support, contact us today.