The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has waived the usual restrictions on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and is allowing the BP oil company and UAS manufacturer AeroVironment to use an AeroVironment Puma AE for aerial surveys in Alaska. According to the FAA, this is the first time permission has been given for a commercial drone to fly over land in the United States.
The extremely tight regulations that ban commercial use of drones in the United States remain in force for now, but the FAA has granted BP a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization that will allow the energy corporation to use the Puma to survey roads, pipelines, and other equipment at Prudhoe Bay, which is located on the north coast of Alaska and is the largest US oilfield.
The first flight of the 4.5-ft (1.3-m) long, hand-launched Puma took place on Sunday. With its 9 ft (2.7 m) wingspan and weighing 13 lb (5.9 kg), the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is equipped with sensors that BP will use to organize maintenance schedules on roads and infrastructure while reducing impact on the environment.
This is not the first waiver that the FAA has issued for UAVs in Alaska. Last year, three Pumas and a Scan Eagle UAV were authorized to fly in the Arctic, but they were restricted to flying one at a time, over water, in clear, ice-free conditions. The FAA says that the PUMA’s safety record allowed the agency to loosen the restrictions for flights in the wilderness area as part of long-range plans to allow greater use of UAVs in the region.
“The 2012 Reauthorization law tasks us with integrating small UAS in the Arctic on a permanent basis,” says FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “This operation will help us accomplish the goal set for us by Congress.”