FAA Unveils New ‘Beyond’ Drone Integration Program

The FAA announces a new Beyond program for drone integration.
Credit: Bill Carey

The FAA on Oct. 30 unveiled a new “Beyond” program to replace the now-expired Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program (UAS IPP) in advancing commercial drone applications.

During a virtual “closeout celebration” for the UAS IPP, FAA executives said the new program will focus on the more regular execution of drone flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) of an operator, making waivers for individual operations unnecessary. “Beyond” is an acronym that stands for BVLOS-Expanding Your Operations Needing Drones, Administrator Steve Dickson said.

The U.S. Transportation Department in November 2017 sought proposals from state and local government-industry partnerships nationwide to participate in the UAS IPP, a planned three-year effort to test drone applications in community settings. In May 2018, the department selected 10 such partnerships from a field of 149 applicants. One lead agency—the Lee County Mosquito Control District of Fort Myers, Florida—withdrew from the program in early 2019.

Eight of the nine original UAS IPP lead participants will continue testing drones in their jurisdictions under the Beyond program. The city of San Diego “due to financial constraints cannot continue, but we hope to find a way to re-engage them,” said Jay Merkle, executive director of the FAA’s UAS Integration Office. The lead participants, not the FAA, choose the companies they work with, and may announce new industry partners, he added.

The UAS IPP claims as major accomplishments the award of the first two Part 135 air-carrier certifications for drone delivery operations—to Alphabet Wing and UPS Flight Forward in April and October 2019, respectively. Working with the San Diego-led partnership, the Chula Vista, California, police department obtained a new Close-Proximity, Low-Altitude waiver from the FAA that allows officers to fly drones BVLOS within a certain range.

Four companies have applied drones in support of community responses to the COVID-19 pandemic: Wing in Virginia and UPS Flight Forward, Flytrex and Zipline in North Carolina.

Data gathered from the various demonstrations will inform two new drone regulations the FAA plans to release by year’s end.

“We have a better understanding of the risks and how to address those risks,” FAA Deputy Administrator Dan Elwell said. “These activities have supported two major rulemakings that will be finalized soon—Remote Identification and Operations Over People—[providing] regulatory certainty to enable scalable drone integration and operations.”

Elwell added: “With Remote ID and Ops Over People, the FAA can succeed in its mission to ensure safety in the Beyond program and more broadly in many exciting new forms of transportation, including advanced air mobility and flying taxis. It has to be safe or the public is simply not going to accept it.”

Bill Carey

Based in Washington, D.C., Bill covers business aviation and advanced air mobility for Aviation Week Network. A former newspaper reporter, he has also covered the airline industry, military aviation, commercial space and unmanned aircraft systems. He is the author of 'Enter The Drones, The FAA and UAVs in America,' published in 2016.