While the U.S. has been busy announcing the 10 selected participants in the drone Integration Pilot Program (IPP), Transport Canada has been developing a comprehensive pilot program for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flight – one designed to show communities how they may benefit from wide spread adoption of drone technology.
In a partnership between Swiss drone manufacturers senseFly, a Parrot company, and Canadian commercial drone operations company IN-FLIGHT Data, 22 major organizations will be part of the project to fly for 12 different use cases – involving over 1500 kilometers of BVLOS flight over a 12 week period.
To say that IN-FLIGHT Data’s president, Chris Healy, is enthusiastic about the project is an understatement. An expert pilot, drone educator, and advocate for the industry, Healy says that the project is an opportunity not only to prove the safety of BVLOS flight but to communicate the value of drone technology to whole communities.
The project will involve some of the usual missions in BVLOS drone flight – including agricultural and search and rescue applications. But this project also introduces municipal operations missions: things like road traffic studies and graveyard inventories. Those are jobs that drones can perform at a much lower cost than traditional methods. That’s a big advantage, says Healy: “When you start talking about lowering people’s tax bills by raising efficiencies, you have people’s attention,” he says.
Samuel Dépraz, Regulatory Project Manager at senseFly, agrees. senseFly will provide the drones for the project, which makes sense: the fixed wing eBee is listed as a “compliant aircraft” according to Transport Canada’s regulations. It’s very light weight and streamlined, blade free design make it a safety paragon; eBee’s flight endurance makes it a good choice for a BVLOS project. senseFly, says Dépraz, is committed to helping prove the case for widespread adoption of drones, and this pilot program is a great opportunity to do just that. “People understand that it’s not just a crazy idea – it’s supported by the government,” Dépraz comments. ” It’s a tremendous opportunity for us – we need to demonstrate these capabilities to the public.”
The project team will feed data from the missions to Transport Canada in order to create risk profiles, which will help move regulations forward – and they’ll also be working to communicate their findings to a wider audience. “We’re getting the word out,” says Healy. “As part of this project, we will be required to do a paper and a public presentation – that’s a very public process.”
Healy says that Transport Canada has said if this program goes well, there will be more of them. More trials and more public interaction, he comments, will help regulators move forward. “It’s not just about opening up the legislation,” says Healy. “It’s about building trust with communities.” That’s the ideal goal for pilot programs around the world – and Canada is providing an excellent example.