June 11, 2014
By Sarah Deener
The FAA has granted approval for the first commercial unmanned aircraft system (UAS) flights over land, the agency announced June 10.
The Puma AE, a hand-launched aircraft with a wingspan of nine feet, will survey roads and infrastructure at the oilfield in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, for energy corporation BP. AeroVironment performed the first flight for BP on June 8.
While the FAA has issued hundreds of certificates of authorization for public UAS for missions such as law enforcement and search and rescue, it only authorizes commercial operations on a case-by-case basis. Insitu’s Scan Eagle was authorized to fly over Arctic waters for ConocoPhillips in September 2013, but no over-land operations had been authorized before now.
“These surveys on Alaska’s North Slope are another important step toward broader commercial use of unmanned aircraft,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a news release. “The technology is quickly changing, and the opportunities are growing.”
The 2012 FAA reauthorization tasks the agency with safely integrating unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System, and the FAA has said it will start the regulatory rulemaking process for integrating small unmanned aircraft in 2014. AOPA has long advocated for safe integration of UAS that will protect manned flights.
According to an FAA resource clarifying the agency’s policy on UAS, commercial unmanned flights require a certified aircraft, certificated pilot, and operating approval. The Puma and Scan Eagle were issued restricted category type certificates in the summer of 2013.
AOPA Pilot and Flight Training Managing Editor Sarah Deener is an instrument-rated private pilot and has worked for AOPA since 2009.
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