The first-ever beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone operation using only onboard detect-and-avoid systems in the U.S. will be conducted in Kansas following just-received FAA approval, the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) announced today. It won’t require visual observers or ground-based radar.
A collaboration between Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus, electric utility Westar Energy, Iris Automation, and KDOT, the operation will involve a drone flying a nine-mile track evaluating technologies for inspecting power lines in rural Kansas. It is hoped it will be the first step in allowing routine commercial infrastructure inspection across the state.
“The ability to fly BVLOS missions without ground-based radar or visual observers is a significant advancement, and Westar Energy views this as an opportunity to play a key role in shaping the future of [drone] operations within the utility industry,” Westar senior UAS coordinator Mike Kelly said.
Kansas officials credit the state’s participation in the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP) for approval to conduct the flights. “The UAS industry has worked over 10 years to demonstrate the most significant commercial benefit of drone operations within the United States,” said KDOT director of aviation Bob Brock. “We are proud of the joint state, university, and industry team effort that made this landmark decision possible.”
K-State Polytechnic’s Applied Aviation Research Center will oversee training and flight operations with a cross-functional team from the 31-member KDOT IPP team. Flights will take place over the next few months.