Tacocopter fans, rejoice.
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.