The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has given approval for energy corporation BP and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) manufacturer AeroVironment to fly an AeroVironment Puma AE for aerial surveys in Alaska – the first time the FAA has authorized a commercial UAS operation over land.
“These surveys on Alaska’s North Slope are another important step toward broader commercial use of unmanned aircraft,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “The technology is quickly changing, and the opportunities are growing.”
The FAA issued a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization to survey BP pipelines, roads and equipment at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, the largest oilfield in the U.S. AeroVironment performed the first flight for BP on June 8.
The Puma AE is a small, hand-launched UAS that is about 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) long and has a wingspan of 9 feet (2.7 meters). Using the information generated by the Puma’s sensors, BP hopes to target maintenance activities on specific roads and infrastructure, which will save time and support safety and operational reliability goals.
Last summer, the FAA issued restricted category type certificates to the Puma and Insitu’s Scan Eagle, another small UAS. The certificates were limited to aerial surveillance only over Arctic waters. The FAA recently modified the data sheet of the Puma’s restricted category type certificate to allow operations over land after AeroVironment showed that the Puma could perform such flights safely.
“The 2012 Reauthorization law tasks us with integrating small UAS in the Arctic on a permanent basis,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said. “This operation will help us accomplish the goal set for us by Congress.”