FAA approves first commercial overland UAV flights
BP has been authorized to fly a Puma AE UAV similar to this one, used by the US Marine Corps in Afghanistan (Photo: Sgt. Bobby Yarbrough/USMC)
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.”
About the Author
David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.
All articles by David Szondy
What about the recent Federal Appeals Court decision that said the FAA has no authority over small commercial UAVs?
Granted, Alaska probably isn't in the same circuit but it seems to me FAA is playing a bit fast and loose with authority they probably don't have.
yes you are right Anne
the FAA is riding for a fall on this one, i can see that telling BP NO, would have made an enemy of the oil Giant and they have a lot more money and legal people than Trappy did when he beat the stuffing out of the FAA back in march, but that decision has been put on hold while the FAA appeals it to higher court. i think they are finally getting a clue actually, because they really have no authority, silly things like "due process" and making up there own laws without congressional approval.
its just easier for them to say "ok you can do this we think its ok for you in this case only" but they are getting BAD legal advice if they think this is going to help there case when it comes before the next judge, or the supreme court, which is where this will all end, i can see that coming already.
advice to the FAA, 1. let the little craft fly 2. ask insurance companies to come up with rules that they like so these craft can be insured .
3. use this as the basis for good sound legislation.
and 4. integrate the damn things into the NAS like congress asked in 2009. the deadline for that congressional order is 2015. congress may be a joke these days but p--- them off at your own risk, and that last bit of advice goes for federal judges as well, defy them at your own risk.
The FAA is a government bureaucracy they will usurp all the power they can.
FAA has a mandate: to protect people from injury and death due to aviation. There are lots of slackers out there who think money first and safety way down the list. Ask the grieving families of hang glider, ultralight and even early general aviation designs before certification standards were in place.
That like all bureaucracies, it's become bloated, inefficient and deadly, deadly slow to make decisions is built in to all governmental bodies from democracy to autocracy alike. Probably not a lot we can do about that, people being people.
One looming disaster with all these FPV multicopters running around is the very real threat of RC-controlled civilian (i.e. hobbyist) craft being flown where private and commercial aviation fly...which in fact is, legally, from the ground up, but more typically 1000 feet and higher.
There are a number of YOuTube videos of people flying their FPV multirotors several thousands of feet up, and no one knows they're there.
They know it's illegal to fly more than a few hundred feet above ground, or near an airport, or out of the operator's sight.
That's not deterring them. It's cool, it's fun, it's running amok. And if FAA doesn't set up regs to cover this, as well as the commercial multi flights, we're all going to be personally affected, or know of someone who will be, in a negative and even tragic way.
I'm not at all in favor of bureaucracies. I am in favor of controlling people's worst instincts, and we're seeing this right now with these dangerous flights.
Search the net: you'll see increasing accounts of near-misses between hobbyist drones and airliners, business airplanes and private planes. It's only a matter of time, if these RC guys keep flying the way they are, before a heavy gets brought down when one flies into a jet engine or a windscreen.
Don't laugh: if people can screw up a good thing, they will. We all know that. So much as we may not like it, FAA is the only organization that's going to be able to keep the skies safe for the millions of people who fly regularly, in airlines down to single-seat ultralights, paragliders and hang gliders.
This could be very useful.
Maybe the mail and important medicines could be delivered to remote areas in Alaska this way.
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