FAA Awards First Commercial Land Drone License…to BP to Help Oil Pipelines in Alaska

Thursday, June 12, 2014
AeroVironment’s Puma AE (photo: BP)

Until this month, the only drones authorized to fly over the United States have been for government operations, primarily to help law enforcement. But the first commercial use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) over American terra firma has now been approved by federal regulators, opening the way for more businesses to utilize the technology.

With approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), oil giant BP is now operating small drones over North America’s largest oil field at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska.


The flights mark the first use of UAS above land by a company. Previously, the FAA had granted approval for commercial drones to fly only over Arctic waters for surveillance purposes.


BP is using AeroVironment’s Puma AE drones to perform aerial surveys. The flights, which began on June 8, are intended to support the company’s efforts to maintain roads and pipelines that transport oil. The hand-launched Puma AEs are less than five feet in length, with a wingspan of nine feet.


Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx indicated that the BP drone license was just the first of many that likely will be approved.


“These surveys on Alaska’s North Slope are another important step toward broader commercial use of unmanned aircraft,” Fox said in a press release. “The technology is quickly changing, and the opportunities are growing.”


The Los Angeles Times’ W.J. Hennigan pointed out that Alaska “could be a sign of things to come as drone technology becomes more advanced and demand increases from police agencies and others for using drones in the commercial world.”


But the FAA cautions not to expect U.S. airspace to become cluttered anytime soon with various drones flying above cities, due to their inability to “detect, sense and avoid” midair collisions.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

FAA Approves First Commercial UAS Flights over Land (Federal Aviation Administration)

FAA for the First Time OKs Commercial Drone Flights over Land (by W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times)

Federal Government Clashes with Commercial Drone Industry (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

U.S. Energy Firm’s First Arctic Drone Mission Paves Way for Controversial Drilling (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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