Rail industry to test drone use for remote track inspection

Repost from FierceGovernmentIT

FAA: PrecisionHawk, BNSF to test drones that go beyond pilot’s line of sight

By Dibya Sarkar,  | May 7, 2015 

Federal aviation regulators May 6 announced a partnership with three U.S. companies that will include researching and testing commercial drones that can fly beyond an operator’s visual line of sight.

The Federal Aviation Administration said that drone manufacturer PrecisionHawk will test how unmanned aerial vehicles can be use for crop monitoring beyond a pilot’s direct vision, while BNSF Railroad will research how such aircraft can be used to inspect rail infrastructure, the agency said in a press release.

Additionally, the cable news organization CNN will look at how drones can be used for news gathering in urban areas within visual line-of-sight operations.

“We anticipate receiving valuable data from each of these trials that could result in FAA-approved operations in the next few years,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in prepared remarks. “They will also give insight into how unmanned aircraft can be used to transform the way certain industries do business – whether that means making sure trains run on time, checking on the health of crops, or reporting on a natural disaster.”

Huerta announced the partnerships, which is called the Pathfinder program, during the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Conference in Atlanta.

According to the FAA release, CNN and the agency have already been working together through a cooperative research and development agreement while BNSF is completing a similar agreement. PrecisionHawk, it said, has been working with FAA on a possible research partnership.

In February, the agency published a proposed rule for small drones, under 55 pounds, and has received nearly 4,500 public comments and is finalizing the rule.

“This, however, takes time – so we’re actively looking for other ways to expand the use of unmanned aircraft in the meantime,” said Huerta, citing six national test sites and waivers for some commercial operations in addition to the latest partnerships.

At the conference, the FAA also released a new smartphone application called “B4UFLY” that’s designed to help model aircraft and drone users know if it’s safe and legal to fly at a particular location.

Huerta in remarks said that people who may be new to unmanned aircraft community may not know the rules and regulations.

“That’s a knowledge gap we need to fill,” he said. “The United States has the most complicated airspace in the world. We need to make sure hobbyists and modelers know where it’s okay to fly and where it isn’t okay to fly – because there can be very real consequences if you don’t.”

The app will be available to about 1,000 beta testers with Apple devices this summer. An Android app is planned later.