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  • Charl Jooste

FAA Boldly Issues a Waiver Allowing Drones To Fly into Fire Areas

Percepto Sparrow. Image: Percepto

In a groundbreaking move, the FAA has issued a waiver that allows drones to fly beyond visual line of sight into fire-ravaged areas to inspect the network infrastructure. This is part of the effort to ensure the safety of emergency personnel during the fire disasters happening in many parts of America.

Fires are a serious and growing concern in many parts of the world and a particular problem in the U.S. First responders, firefighters, and other emergency personnel have a difficult and dangerous job and need all the help they can get. Communication is critical to their operation and networks are often difficult to inspect and maintain under these extreme conditions.

Verizon is one of the larger networks and was able to secure this waiver from the FAA. Industrial drones can now be flown remotely, from the safety of the operators home, to inspect the integrity and reliability of their vital communication infrastructure. BVLOS or Beyond the Visual Line Of Sight flights have been a challenge for many commercial drone operators and this is certainly a landmark ruling. The waiver is temporary but should prove the safety and effectiveness of this type of commercial drone application.

The drones used for the Verizon inspections are made by Percepto, a company that specializes in BVLOS missions for emergency response. The temporary waiver allows for experienced drone pilots to operate the Percepto Sparrow drones from home. They can safely and effectively conduct inspections remotely. The waiver allows for unmanned flights with less than 3 miles of visibility 24 hours a day. The groundbreaking waiver is the first time BVLOS flights have been allowed from a home base.

What makes the Percepto Sparrow perfectly situated to this type of work is that it can land in the snow and even in strong winds.

Chief Strategy Officer at Verizon, Rima Qureshi, explains, "At a moment when we are facing dangerous consequences of climate change and coping with a global pandemic, maintaining the Verizon Network has never been more important. Innovations in airborne technology have enhanced our ability to inspect our sites without putting engineers in harm's way, and provide our first responders with reliable communications. We appreciate the FAA's swift action in granting the waiver, which allows us to deploy a network-connected drone and provide critical services, safely and effectively.”

The Big Hollow Fire in Washington has been burning since September 9 and has decimated tens of thousands of acres. It has also resulted in mandatory evacuations of certain areas. This is just one example of the severity of the fire destruction in parts of America and around the world. This dire situation has made it essential for alternatives to human inspection in areas that are not safe. The integrity of the communication network is critical for first responders.

Percepto produces tough durable drones that can operate in these extreme conditions. Their autonomous drones employ, among other technology, AI to deliver real-time data that is invaluable in determining the risk and issues in industrial inspections. According to them, they are the largest provider of drone-in-a-box solutions in this environment.

Many believe that this situation will not improve soon and could worsen. This, coupled with other natural disasters, necessitates the need for a technological solution to ensure the safety of human life. Reliable communication is essential for first responders. The waiver was a swift and bold move made by the Special Governmental Interest division within the FAA. Drones have an important role to help in these challenges and will help save lives and ensure better and more effective operations.


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