Commercial drone manufacturer senseFly is the first to be authorized to fly unmanned aerial vehicles beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) ― in Switzerland. While this authorization doesn’t apply in the U.S., it is still big news.
Switzerland’s Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) granted senseFly drone pilots permission to fly its eBee-branded range of drones (eBee, eBee Plus, eBee RTK, eBee SQ) in Switzerland at any time. Visual observers, however, are still required to scan the skies for other aircraft in the vicinity.
“While this permission is valid only for senseFly, it opens the door for our Swiss eBee customers to apply for, and enjoy, similarly flexible flight conditions,” said Jean-Christophe Zufferey, senseFly’s CEO, in a press release. “This will, in turn, allow them to grow their businesses by taking on larger, more complex projects.”
The standard eBee drone weighs about 1.52 pounds, which makes it, and the other drones in the eBee line, subject to Switzerland’s lighter unmanned aircraft regulations
. According to the FOCA
, unmanned aircraft weighing up to about 66 pounds can “basically be operated without a special permission under the condition that the pilot has at anytime eye contact with the flying object.” Also, pilots are not allowed to fly these drones above gatherings of people.
But the FOCA does provide permits, on a case-by-case basis, to allow these flights. According to the FOCA website, it has the authority to grant permits for both single occasions and long periods of time, as long the operation is “always of similar nature and involves the same risks, and the operator is able to guarantee applicable conditions and requirements can be complied with at all times.”
And that’s exactly what the FOCA did for senseFly. The BVLOS permit granted to senseFly allows its drone operators to take their eyes off of any of their eBee drones at any time, without new government permission. Talk about trust.
However, the BVLOS authorization does come with strict guidelines: The eBee drones cannot fly higher than 500 feet above ground level (or 1,000 feet above urban areas) and pilot's must have visual observers. Each visual observer must monitor the airspace for other aircraft and communicate any issues with the drone operator.
“At senseFly, we are committed to bringing solutions to market that facilitate the seamless and safe cohabitation of drones and manned aircraft,” Zufferey added. “This is why we launched our Safer Together
initiative with Air Navigation Pro. It is also why we will be collaborating closely with JARUS
on our BVLOS findings and experiences, in order for that group to help the EASA
develop the most valuable BVLOS Standard Scenario for future European use.”
The success of senseFly’s BVLOS flights in Switzerland could show other countries how beneficial BVLOS operations can be, paving the way for more BVLOS flights around the world. While senseFly’s drone operator may not have their eyes on the eBee drones as they buzz around Switzerland, the rest of the world certainly will. No pressure.