Kansas State Polytechnic Granted FAA’s First Waiver to a University to fly UAS BLOS

Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus has received a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly unmanned aircraft systems beyond the line of sight (BLOS). It’s the first such waiver granted to a university by the FAA.

The FAA certificate to Kansas State Polytechnic’s Applied Aviation Research Center waives the rules regarding visual sight of aircraft operations by the pilot and visual observers. This allows Kansas State Polytechnic to conduct research and operations where pilots and observers can no longer see their aircraft.

“These operations and research will provide valuable insight into regulation and safety measures for UAS in the national airspace,” said Travis Balthazor, Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS flight operations manager. “At the time of notification to us, the FAA’s website showed only 20 waivers to this regulation, and only half are waived to allow small UAS operations where the remote pilot in command and the visual observers may not be able to see the aircraft.”

Balthazor called the waiver a significant first step in Kansas State Polytechnic’s efforts to further develop the safety case for longer range small UAS operations.

“We have been working deliberately over the last two years to demonstrate our ability to safely adhere to the standards set forth in our waiver,” Balthazor said.

Kurt Carraway, the Applied Aviation Research Center’s UAS executive director, emphasized the importance of this waiver to K-State Polytechnic’s research and partnership with the FAA in integrating UAS into the national airspace system.

“This is a significant step in meeting our strategic goals of incorporating sound research and a safety-centric approach to UAS operations to help the industry and the FAA continue to integrate UAS into the national airspace system,” Carraway said. “We are pleased to have been a partner with PrecisionHawk in their Pathfinder II project, which gave us some of the baseline experience we needed to make the safety case.”

Kansas State University is a member of the Kansas UAS Joint Task Force and a key partner with the Kansas Department of Transportation, which was recently named one of 10 entities nationwide to be part of the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program.

“This waiver is an initial component of the ‘crawl, walk, run’ aspect of our approach to larger-scale beyond-the-line-of-sight operations,” Carraway said. “In addition to our efforts affiliated with the Kansas Department of Transportation’s Integration Pilot Program, we will offer flight operations training and consulting to help other entities gain similar waivers. This is consistent with the Kansas State University land-grant mission of transferring our knowledge to promote the greater good of the industry.”

Kansas State Polytechnic was recently named third-place winner in the training and education category of the 2018 XCELLENCE Awards by AUVSI. This award recognizes the valuable training offered and effect K-State Polytechnic has on the UAS industry. Kansas State Polytechnic offers a variety of UAS training courses, including a law enforcement specific flight training course.