According to Skyward officials, the MOA “reaffirms that drone technology like the software developed by Skyward is one of the innovations needed to empower cellular-connected drones to unlock complex operations like beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), universal traffic management (UTM), and one-to-many operations.”
The MOA, “Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)—Cellular Technologies to Support UAS Activities,” enables Skyward and the FAA to research the capabilities of cellular communication networks for command and control — known as C2 — within the National Airspace System.
The three-year agreement also allows the two to propose standards for operations, including BVLOS, according to Skyward officials.
“Cellular-connected drones play a critical role in enabling tomorrow’s safe, reliable, and secure drone operations,” said Matt Fanelli, Director of Strategy and Operations at Skyward. “We are thrilled to be laying this foundation with the FAA and are confident that our efforts will help inform technical standards from which industry regulations authorizing low-risk BVLOS and one-to-many operations will flow.”
Today, most commercial drones use unlicensed spectrum, which is restricted in range and subject to interference, limiting its use for complex operations, Skyward officials noted.
“Verizon’s 4G LTE nationwide coverage, provided over spectrum protected from interference, presents an enormous opportunity for drone operations,” officials said in a prepared release. “The MOA will inform regulations regarding spectrum used in the C2 link between the drone operator and drone. The MOA will also facilitate information sharing between the FAA and Skyward, leveraging Verizon’s wireless network expertise, as the parties continue to explore how wireless networks can support drone operations.”
The latest agreement follows Skyward’s emergency waiver to inspect critical communications infrastructure near the Big Hollow wildfire in Washington in September 2020. The industry’s first known fully remote BVLOS operation with no pilot or visual observer on site demonstrated a low-risk operation, as well as a need for analyzing and sharing fully remote data with standard bodies and the FAA, Skyward officials noted.