FAA Approves Commercial UAS Flights in Alaska

 - June 16, 2014, 1:10 PM
The Puma AE unmanned aircraft weighs 13.5 pounds. [Photo: AeroVironment]

The FAA last week issued oil company BP and unmanned aircraft manufacturer AeroVironment its first official approval for commercial operations over land in the U.S. using unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Flights using AeroVironment’s 13.5-pound Puma AE began immediately on June 8, performing aerial surveillance of BP’s pipelines and other facilities in support of the Prudhoe Bay oilfield in Alaska.

Last summer, the FAA issued restricted-category type certificates to the Puma for limited aerial surveillance but only over Arctic waters.

Using the information generated by the Puma’s sensors, BP hopes to target maintenance activities on specific pipelines, roads and infrastructure, which will save time and support safety and operational reliability goals. 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 Puma AE is a small, hand-launched UAS about four-and-a-half feet long and with a nine-foot wingspan.