FAA approves first beyond-line-of-sight drone flight

The US Federal Aviation Administration approved the first drone flight beyond the operator’s sight line in late August, signalling a major advance for retailers like Amazon who are seeking to accelerate drone delivery.

The flight by the University of Alaska Fairbanks over an oil pipeline was part of a joint programme with the FAA to test BVLOS flights in which drones automatically perform tasks that would otherwise be done manually and further than the less than two miles for in-sight flights, depending on visibility and drone size.

Amazon, which has been using drones for UK deliveries since 2016, said in June that it expected to start doing so in the United States within months.

While the drone did not fly over people, drone flights used for delivery would require permission to fly over people.

Cathy Cahill, director of the university’s drone programme, said BVLOS flights are especially important for Alaska because the lack of roads in remote areas makes it difficult to complete many vital missions. The University of Alaska Fairbanks is focused on testing drone use for medical supply delivery and pipeline surveillance.