On June 10th, the U.S.A Federal Aviation Administration announced it has officially given permission for the first commercial drone to fly over the U.S land airspace. The subject commercial drone belongs to energy corporation BP and AeroVironment – the unmanned aircraft manufacturer. The drone will now legally fly over U.S land airspace to conduct surveillance over BP’s Prudhoe Bay oil field located on Alaska’s North Slope.
For long and in what seems to be quite confusing, the FAA has a bad history with commercial drones especially those intending to fly over the U.S land airspace. It has also led to many start-ups being held back from launching, when their initiative entails experimenting with drones. Now, that FAA has allowed BP’s commercial drone to fly, perhaps this will form a good precedence for FAA to move into the fast lane and allow more commercial drones to hit the skies.
The FAA approval of the drone’s flight could be attributed to the initial operation FAA was conducting with a number of agencies to fly drones by civilians over six sites selected by FAA. With that, FAA is slowly reducing the cease and desist letters it sends to commercial drone operations.
“These surveys on Alaska’s North Slope are another step toward broader commercial use of unmanned aircraft. The technology is quickly changing, and the opportunities are growing,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
The AeroVironment drone is a hand launched, 4 ½ foot-long Puma AE drone. It has a nine feet wingspan and can fly for 3 ½ hours on a single charge. The same drone was used for operations over the Arctic waters airspace under the FAA approval. According to AeroVironment, the drone’s purpose if for 3D mapping; it can be fitted with LiDAR or standard aerial photography equipment.
The approval of the unmanned aircraft flight over BP’s oil fields is part of a larger plan by FAA for allowing more commercial drones to fly over the Arctic airspace. It is also a strong indication that FAA is ready to move forward with the use of commercial drones. However, flying drones over empty Arctic airspace is a far cry when compared to flying drones in the congested New York airspace; there are definitely challenges ahead. Hence, FAA is expected to move ahead with this plan cautiously, but we all appreciate the momentum shown so far by FAA.