General Atomics OK’d for BVLOS Flights Without Chase Plane


General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) has received a certificate of waiver or authorization (COA) from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to conduct drone operations beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) of the operator.

The company will use a ground-based sense-and-avoid (GBSAA) system, an alternative to a “more costly and operationally restrictive” chase aircraft, says GA-ASI.

According to GA-ASI, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in North Dakota paved the way for obtaining the COA, which incorporates the Grand Forks Air Force Base’s air surveillance radar (ASR)-11 and L3Harris Technologies’ VueStation and RangeVue systems to meet “see and avoid” requirements for a significant volume of airspace.

The COA allows BVLOS flights to be conducted out of GA-ASI’s Flight Test and Training Center (FTTC), located in the Grand Sky UAS Business Park in North Dakota. GA-ASI will fly its company-owned Predator B aircraft within 60 nautical miles of the FTTC. The FAA authorization has been granted for one year, beginning on Aug. 31.

“This is a big step that will help us to advance UAS operations and comes as the result of our work to both fund the DASR-11 radar and secure authorization from the FAA,” comments U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. “Requiring a visual observer adds significant cost and complications to UAS operations and limits the ability of General Atomics, Grand Sky, the test site and others to develop this technology – which is why we’ve been working closely with the FAA to allow broader permission for BVLOS flights.

“Now, General Atomics will be able to fly UAS without an observer or chase plane up to 60 miles from the air base,” continues Hoeven. “This is a significant expansion of the company’s unmanned operations in the state, another important step toward safely integrating this technology into our airspace, and further proof that North Dakota is the location of choice for UAS research, development, testing and operations.”

“Thanks to the support of Senator Hoeven and Grand Forks Air Force Base, GA-ASI will be able to use GBSAA as an alternate and preferred means of compliance,” says David R. Alexander, president of GA-ASI.

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