First overland UAS flight takes off

The Federal Aviation Administration gave a green light to the first commercial operation of an unmanned aircraft system over land, and granted Nevada authority to operate a UAS test site.

The FAA has begun to clear the way for domestic drones to operate lawfully across the United States.

Earlier this week it gave a green light to the first commercial operation of a unmanned aircraft system over land, and also granted Nevada a certificate of authority to begin operating a UAS test site in the United States.

Energy giant PB and UAS maker AeroVironment June 8 were granted permission to use the Puma AE drone to conduct a survey of BP pipelines, roads and equipment at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, the largest oilfield in the United States.

AeroVironment made the first flight for BP June 8, the FAA announced.

“These surveys on Alaska’s North Slope are another important step toward broader commercial use of unmanned aircraft,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The technology is quickly changing, and the opportunities are growing.”

AeroVironment’s Puma AE is a small, hand-launched UAS that is about 4 1/2 feet long with a wingspan of 9 feet. Using data generated by the Puma’s sensors, BP wants to target maintenance work on specific roads and infrastructure. BP said the application will save time and support safety and operational reliability goals.

Meanwhile the FAA granted the state of Nevada a certificate of authority to operate a UAS test site.

The state is one of six sites across the country that the FAA tapped to host one of the facilities. The others are at the University of Alaska; Griffiss International Airport in Rome, N.Y.; the North Dakota Department of Commerce; Texas A&M University's Corpus Christi campus; and Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg. The University of Alaska received its COA in early May and North Dakota received the first one in April.

The FAA said June 6 that it granted Nevada a two-year certificate of waiver or authorization to use an Insitu ScanEagle at the Desert Rock Airport in Mercury.

The facility, according to the FAA, is owned and operated by the Department of Energy and is not for general use. The ScanEagle will fly at or below 3,000 feet, monitored by a visual observer and mission commander. Initial flights will verify that a UAS can operate safely at the airport, said FAA.

The Nevada Governor's Office of Economic Development said in a June 6 statement that the unmanned aerial vehicle will be used for a first responder exercise in which the vehicle "will be 'eyes on scene' during a mock emergency exercise."

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