FAA has granted a waiver to a team headed by the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) to fly small drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) of an operator using an onboard detect-and-avoid system.

Operating under FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program (UAS IPP), the team will fly a nine-mile track to evaluate technologies for power line inspections without the drone being monitored by observers or ground-based radar. The approval is the first of its kind for long-line linear infrastructure inspection, the team said Aug. 14.

Drones will be fitted with a computer vision detect-and-avoid system developed by Iris Automation of San Francisco, which uses cameras and proprietary algorithms to determine the safest course of action to avoid collisions. The Kansas flight tests will use the 22-lb. (10 kg) maximum takeoff weight Albatross fixed-wing drone supplied by Applied Aeronautics of Austin, Texas.

Participating on the KDOT team are Kansas State (K-State) University Polytechnic, Kansas City-based electric utility Westar Energy and Iris Automation.

The K-State Applied Aviation Research Center, which assisted in developing the safety case that led to FAA approval, will be responsible for training and flight operations. The team expects to conduct BVLOS operations over the next several months.

“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 UAS operations within the utility industry,” Westar Energy senior UAS coordinator Mike Kelly said.

“Being able to operate under this waiver allows the Kansas IPP team the ability to research and develop truly scalable BVLOS UAS operations for the automated inspection of linear infrastructure,” Kelly added.

Bill Carey, bill.carey@aviationweek.com