Watershed: Iridium Connected Drones Get First FAA BVLOS Waiver

Iridium Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: IRDM), a prominent provider of global satellite communications for both voice and data, has announced a groundbreaking advancement in the realm of uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) operations beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). In partnership with American Aerospace Technologies, Inc. (AATI), Iridium has facilitated the attainment of a pioneering waiver from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This waiver allows for the deployment of UAS surveillance for critical infrastructure in the San Joaquin Valley, serving a multinational oil and gas conglomerate.

This significant waiver marks a potential turning point for the broader adoption of safe and scalable UAS operations within the National Airspace System (NAS). Leveraging Iridium’s comprehensive L-Band satellite connectivity, AATI’s AiRanger is now facilitating remote aerial surveillance for the energy corporation’s pipeline and production facilities. The utilization of Iridium’s low-latency network ensures reliable and cost-effective BVLOS connectivity, encompassing remote Command and Control (C2) and Detect and Avoid (DAA) capabilities. Overflying the extensive pipeline network, these large drones (weighing over 200 lbs.) transmit data via Iridium® satellites, facilitating prompt and efficient routine inspections of oil and gas pipelines.

In collaboration with Iridium, Blue Sky Network has customized the development and integration of its global, dual-mode SkyLink 7100 voice, data, and BVLOS terminal installed on the aircraft. The Iridium Connected™ Skylink 7100 enables continuous tracking and C2 capabilities for both aviation and UAV operations.

The Iridium Connected AiRanger stands as the premier UAS to demonstrate adherence to industry consensus standards for the DAA system while meeting FAA requirements for BVLOS operations regarding aircraft right of way. This achievement sets a precedent for companies seeking to deploy BVLOS UAS to enhance operational efficiency and situational awareness, thereby reducing inspection costs and maximizing value. The waiver underscores Iridium’s capability to meet FAA requirements for large drone BVLOS operations through its satellite C2 capabilities.

John Peterson, Executive Director of Aviation at Iridium, remarked, “This certification epitomizes innovation through the synergy of technology, partnership, and practical application. Collaborative efforts between aircraft manufacturers and communications providers pave the way for scalable business solutions. Iridium, along with our esteemed partners AATI and Blue Sky Network, is proud to establish the foundation for scalable BVLOS operations, showcasing the possibilities enabled by reliable satellite communications.”

Continuing its collaboration with the drone industry, Iridium is actively engaged in the establishment of safe separation using Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) avionics. In the previous year, Iridium released a whitepaper addressing challenges encountered in enabling a safe, scalable, and efficient adoption of UAS in the NAS. The whitepaper elucidates methods to maintain safe separation between aircraft and identifies readily available supportive COTS avionics. Additionally, it furnishes a recommended equipment list and highlights capabilities facilitated by the Iridium network, supporting safe and scalable UAS operations within the NAS.

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