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FAA OKs First Commercial Drone Flights Over Land

June 10, 2014
By Sandra Jontz
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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has authorized the first commercial drone to fly over land, giving the OK to energy giant BP Exploration (Alaska) Incorporated, which can use it to provide mapping, geographic information system (GIS) and other commercial information services at its Prudhoe Bay oil field, the largest oil field in the United States.

The drone, manufactured by AeroVironment, will use light detection and ranging (LiDAR) and infrared sensors to produce imagery and data for processing into 3-D computerized models of roads, pads and pipelines, and other actionable information, including precision volumetric measurement and topographic analysis of gravel pits at the North Slope field, according to a news release. The first flight took place on Sunday, but not announced to the public until Tuesday. The FAA restricts commercial use of drones over land and water for safety concerns.

AeroVironment’s operational track record includes the production and delivery of nearly 25,000 new and replacement small unmanned aircraft with cumulative flight time estimated at more than one million hours and has delivered small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to customers in the United States and 30 allied nations, according to a company statement.

It produced mapping and inspection services incorporating UAS at the Prudhoe Bay field in September 2013 under a public certificate of authorization through the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the release states. The services included 3-D road mapping, 3-D gravel pit volumetric analysis, visual and 3-D pipeline analysis, general topography and environmental monitoring services.

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

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