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The Federal Aviation Administration announced on Tuesday that the federal agency has approved oil company BP and drone manufacturer AeroVironment to fly the first commercial unmanned aircraft over land.
The two companies were issued a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization in order to use AeroVironment's Puma AE to survey BP's pipelines in Alaska's North Slope oilfield. The first official flight was conducted on Sunday.
"These surveys on Alaska's North Slope are another important step toward broader commercial use of unmanned aircraft," Anthony Foxx, transportation secretary, said. "The technology is quickly changing, and the opportunities are growing."
AeroVironment's Puma is about 4-and-a-half feet long and boasts a 9-foot wingspan. The hope is that use of the UAS will make it easier and safer to observe the pipeline and infrastructure before sending people up to correct any problems or work on maintenance issues.
The Puma, along with Insitu's Scan Eagle, were first given restricted permission to fly over Arctic waters, but after proving to the FAA, the Puma could fly safely, the certificate was upped to include land flights as well.
FAA administrator Michael Huerta said, "The 2012 Reauthorization law tasks us with integrating small UAS in the Arctic on a permanent basis. This operation will help us accomplish the goal set for us by Congress."