The FAA is opening the door a crack for self-flying drones like Skydio to reach their potential
You can’t fly a drone at night. You can’t fly a drone over people. You need to be able to see it with your naked eye at all times — or have a dedicated observer who can. These rules exist to keep dumb drones (and reckless pilots) from crashing into people, property, and other aircraft in the skies.
But what happens when drones get smarter, and can dodge obstacles on their own? That’s the kind of drone that Skydio builds, and it appears to be successfully convincing the FAA to create exceptions to that naked-eye, Visual Line Of Sight (VLOS) rule.
This week, the FAA granted the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) a blanket waiver to fly Skydio drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) to inspect any bridge, anywhere across the state, for four whole years. They primarily need to make sure the bridge isn’t occupied by random people, and fly within 50 feet of the bridge and 1,500 feet of the drone’s pilot. You can see the full waiver here (PDF).
It’s not the first time the FAA has granted a BVLOS waiver; the agency has granted limited waivers since the first drone rules rolled out, but early waivers were often for a single flight or series of flights by a licensed pilot who’d applied months in advance. But in 2015, the FAA signaled that it wanted to enable more advanced uses of drones, particularly beyond visual line of sight, as quickly as it can — and over the past year, we’ve seen it start to happen in a bigger way.
Last October, the UPS won FAA approval to operate a “drone airline” with a Part 135 Standard certification, allowing its delivery drones to fly beyond visual line of sight. This August, Amazon’s Prime Air got the