The FAA Gave Two Private Companies Permits to Operate Domestic Drones

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
June 11 2014 6:51 PM

The FAA Gave Two Private Companies Permits to Operate Domestic Drones

Drone world.

Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Tacocopter fans, rejoice.

Lily Hay Newman Lily Hay Newman

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.

The Federal Aviation Administration has long limited unmanned aerial vehicle use to private citizens and the government. But now the FAA has given BP the green light to conduct surveys in Alaska using aircraft from manufacturer AeroVironment.


According to an agency release, BP has already unleashed its drones: “The FAA issued a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization to survey BP pipelines, roads and equipment at Prudhoe Bay, AK, the largest oilfield in the United States. AeroVironment performed the first flight for BP on June 8.”

AeroVironment is flying its small Puma AE drone, which is about 4.5 feet long and has a wingspan of 9 feet. The UAV is equipped with infrared sensors, standard cameras, and other instruments to survey infrastructure along the pipeline and check roads for damage. The Puma AE is also waterproof.

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

Questions have swirled in the U.S. about the legality of drones and even the validity of the FAA's authority as UAVs have become a larger and more visible mainstream topic. BP's FAA permit is a significant step toward the beer-delivery drones and Amazon Prime Airs of the future. There's no telling them to buzz off now.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.



The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?


Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 11:40 AM The U.S. Has Spent $7 Billion Fighting the War on Drugs in Afghanistan. It Hasn’t Worked. 
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Right of Free Speech
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
Oct. 21 2014 12:05 PM Same-Sex Couples at Home With Themselves in 1980s America
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 4:14 PM Planet Money Uncovers One Surprising Reason the Internet Is Sexist
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.