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Commercial UAVs Now Flying In The Arctic

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The first FAA-approved commercial flight by an unmanned aircraft launched in the Chukchi Sea, above the Arctic Circle, on Sept. 12, the FAA said on Monday. The flight "went off safely and without a hitch," the FAA said. A ship chartered by ConocoPhillips carried four Insitu ScanEagle UAS to conduct marine-mammal and ice surveys required to meet rules that govern drilling on the sea floor. The ScanEagles weigh 44 pounds each and have a 10-foot wingspan. The first UAS launched and flew for 36 minutes, and landed safely back on the ship. The flight was "just the start of the FAA Arctic Plan," the FAA said. The FAA is working toward a goal of integrating UAS into the National Airspace, as mandated by Congress last year.

The Arctic Plan aims to create permanent areas in Arctic airspace where UAS can operate for research and commercial purposes. The FAA has established three blocks of airspace above international waters in the Arctic where UAS can fly 24 hours a day at heights up to 2,000 feet. The UAS are allowed to fly beyond the vision of the on-the-ground operator, which is a first for small UAS operations. "The project is giving the FAA and industry needed experience and a path forward to certify UAS for more commercial operations, both in the Arctic and elsewhere," the FAA said. The ScanEagle and the AeroVironment Puma both were approved by the FAA for commercial uses in July.

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