Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) has been awarded a first-of-its-kind waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that will allow students to remotely pilot unmanned aerial systems (UAS) through online video platforms such as Zoom. This waiver, which is the first of its type to be granted to a civilian organization, enables what is known as remote-split operations (RSO).
RSO is especially valuable for students of ERAU’s Worldwide Campus students, who may not be able fly drones where they live. It also allows students to fly state-of-the-art drones with complex equipment, such as multispectral sensors and thermal cameras, to which they might not otherwise have access. Currently, the Worldwide Campus is the only of Embry-Riddle’s three campuses that has been granted this permission.
Dr. David Thirtyacre, ERAU College of Aeronautics assistant professor and Department of Flight chair, commented: “This is a big deal. We’ve worked closely with the FAA on this project for two years and now have the ability to let students fly complex drones, that are not at their location, from anywhere in the United States. This opens up all sorts of training and opportunities for our students.”
Dr. Joseph Cerreta, associate professor of Aeronautical Science who submitted the waiver request to the FAA, said: “RSO introduces complex operational environments for our students to experience the importance of crew resource management, effective communication, aeronautical decision-making and airmanship principles. These are all fundamental components of knowledge, skills and abilities for an unmanned systems operator, which sets Embry-Riddle students apart.”
Ian Kerr, a student in Worldwide’s master’s program in Aeronautics, recently flew a $5,000 Embry-Riddle drone located in Idaho to perform an aerial survey of a cemetery — using artificial intelligence — from his home in Seattle. He commented: “Being able to conduct these missions with experienced pilots such as Dr. Cerreta will allow student pilots like me to become industry leaders. Embry-Riddle is paving the way.”
Casey McGuire, who also participated in the flight from his home in Las Vegas, said: “I think the opportunity to perform RSO is invaluable for me moving forward. The mission involves all of the objectives that many leading industry players are trying to achieve. This was incredible exposure to beyond visual line of sight operations that someday will be more widely accepted and utilized.”