The Federal Aviation Administration has issued the first-ever waiver for an over-land drone flight, and it went to BP and UAS manufacturer AeroVironment.
The first drone to perform routine commercial services over land will be AeroVironment's Puma AE – a hand-launched UAS that measures about four-and-a-half feet long with a wingspan of nine feet.
BP will use the drones to survey pipelines, equipment, and roads in Rudhoe Bay, Alaska. More specifically, "target maintenance activities on specific roads and infrastructure, which will save time and support safety and operational reliability goals, while helping to protect the sensitive North Slope environment," according to BP.
Prudhoe Bay is the biggest oilfield in the US.
“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.”
It's important to note that the FAA has already granted waivers to commercial UAS, but they flew over Arctic waters.
“Thanks to the FAA’s rigorous, safety-focused certification process for UAS, BP and AeroVironment have launched a safer, better and more cost-effective solution for managing critical infrastructure and resources,” said Tim Conver, AeroVironment chairman and chief executive officer. “BP’s forward-thinking embrace of UAS technology enabled AeroVironment to deliver a comprehensive approach for generating, processing and converting data collected by portable UAS into actionable information that provides tangible economic and operational advantages. Integrated into BP’s routine operations, this new solution is now helping BP manage its extensive Prudhoe Bay field operations in a way that enhances safety, protects the environment, improves productivity and accomplishes activities never before possible.”
AeroVironment says that their Puma AE UAS is very well suited for this operation, which will monitor a chunk of land that produces around two-thirds of oil in the state of Alaska.
Image via AeroVironment