BNSF to Advance Drone Operations

BNSF has been testing drones for supplemental inspection of rail infrastructure for the last three years.

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BNSF Railway Co. has been granted exemptions from the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016 to help expand drone operations.

The company has been testing drones for supplemental inspection of rail infrastructure for the last three years. According to Progressive Railroading, the operations include "beyond visual line of sight" flights that include a programmed aircraft with long-range flight plans to be flown autonomously and out of view of an operator. 

Progressive Railroading reports that the exemption will enable BNSF to work with the FAA to streamline its BVLOS operations as it continues to enhance its UAV operations. In addition, the exemption also allows the company relief from other rules that were not necessary for its drone operations or limited its advancements. 

According to the exemption document, the FAA granted BNSF: 

  • permission to fly BVLOS flights below 400 feet above ground level because altitudes higher pose a risk of collision with other aircraft;
  • an exemption from requiring a FAA airworthiness certificate because the aircraft does not create a hazard to users of national airspace system or the public;
  • an exemption from certain maintenance requirements so that BNSF can conduct regularly scheduled maintenance and inspection in accordance with the drone operation manual; and
  • permission for BNSF UAS pilots that hold a private pilot certificate and a third-class medical certification to conduct operations for compensation.
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