First Approval Issued for Drone Operations
on Docks to BNSF Railway


The FAA has issued the first approval ever for BNSF Railway to remotely operate Skydio drones in docks flying BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight).

The waiver lets BNSF drones fly from a distant location without the need of having a pilot physically present. The unique this waiver is that it applies nationwide for all types of missions that BNSF Railway may have. The second important specific of the waiver is that it gives permission to the company to fly drones for work, not just for tests.

What are benefits to have
an approval issued for drone operations

It is interesting to know that this waiver lets drone operations take place in real-world applications and that happens for the first time ever. The waiver permits dock-based operations 100 feet above the ground only. The waiver can be applied to all the areas above BNSF Railway’s property, excluding the cases when the railways are located 3 nautical miles or more from an airport.

What are the Consequences of FAA Waiver?

There are three major consequences of having an approval issued for drone operations

  1. Security at Railyards

Probably the most important use of remote, dock-based drones is for surveillance of the perimeter of railyards. Confirming there are not any security breaches is now possible with regular visual data, collected and sent by drones.

2. Effective Response to Emergencies

In case of an accident on the rail line, a drone will be sent to the exact location to send visual data to inspectors. That way can be taken informative decision how to proceed further with the situation.

3. Infrastructure Inspections

Regular flying of drones over the infrastructure of the railways will make the inspection process fast and easy. The visual data can be also used for identifying weak areas in a fence.

BNSF Has Been Expanding the Range of Drones Commercial Use for Years

BNSF Railway has been trying to expand the use of commercial drones for years. Back in 2014, when people still do not know what were drones about, BNSF already had prepared their first drone program. 

In 2015, BNSF conducted the first civil BVLOS flight in the U.S. The drone had to send video data of a flooded section of its train tracks to determine how to handle the damages.

Up to now, the company has flown 28,000 miles of BVLOS drone operations.

 In fact, autonomous drones are just one type of the BNSF drone collection! The company has bigger fixed-wing drones that are used specifically for inspections. These drones are used in long-range inspection missions as they are more resistant, being compared to other types of drones. However, the greatest disadvantage of fixed-wing drones is their price. That is the primary reason why the company runs tests on the smaller and cheaper for maintenance and operations Skydio drone ( which has a model with Obstacle Avoidance system). More on FAA drone rules can be read here. 

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