Operating BVLOS: FAA Proposes Guidance on Staying “Well Clear” – The Hockey Puck of Clearance

On Tuesday, the FAA released a draft Advisory Circular (90-WLCLR), proposing a definition of small UAS staying “well clear” of aircraft during beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations.  The AC will be a useful tool for operators seeking waivers from Part 107 for BVLOS operations as the FAA.  The AC also demonstrates the FAA’s continued efforts to give guidance for operations that exceed the standard operating conditions of Part 107, as the agency continues to draft additional UAS rules to enable greater operational capabilities beyond Part 107, including BVLOS.

The new ACWell  Clear Definition for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operating Beyond Visual Line of Sightproposes that “well clear” be defined as maintaining a horizontal distance of 2,000 feet or a vertical distance of 250 feet between a small UAS and manned aircraft or ultralight vehicles.  The FAA describes the well clear boundary as a “hockey-puck-shaped” area of airspace surrounding the small UAS .  It does not require maintaining both the vertical and horizontal distance.  For example, an aircraft may be closer than 2,000 feet horizontally, as long as it is separated by 250 feet vertically.

If adopted, the new guidance would apply to:

  • Small UAS (e.g., under 50 lbs.);
  • Operations using a detect and avoid system;
  • Operations conducted under Parts 107, 91, or 135;
  • Operations in Class G and E airspace, except on or in the vicinity of an airport; and
  • Operations below 1,200 feet above ground level.

It would not apply to manned aircraft operations, maintaining safe distances between small UAS or small UAS and terrestrial objects (e.g., persons, structure, obstructions), or small UAS operations using visual observers.

The guidance will likely be useful to those proposing to operate BVLOS operations under Part 107 waivers, making the safety case that the operations will follow this clearance guidance.

The guidance is also evidence of FAA’s efforts to determine the safety cases for BVLOS operations.  The FAA is scheduled to release a rule on remote identification and tracking in May 2019, which should advance complex operations like BVLOS.