FAA Expands Commercial Drone Flights

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The FAA on Tuesday approved, for the first time, commercial operation of an unmanned aerial system over land. Previously, the agency had OK'd flights only over remote areas of the Arctic Ocean. The new approval will allow energy company BP and UAS manufacturer AeroVironment to fly a Puma AE for aerial surveys in Alaska's Prudhoe Bay region. "These surveys … are another important step toward broader commercial use of unmanned aircraft," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "The technology is quickly changing, and the opportunities are growing." The Puma AE is a hand-launched UAS with a wingspan of 9 feet.

The Puma’s sensors will help BP to target maintenance activities on specific roads and infrastructure, the FAA said, which will save time and promote safety and operational reliability, while helping to protect the sensitive North Slope environment. "The 2012 Reauthorization law tasks us with integrating small UAS in the Arctic on a permanent basis," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. "This operation will help us accomplish the goal set for us by Congress."