BP plc's North Slope Alaska operations have been cleared by federal regulators to use an unmanned aircraft system (UAS, or drone) for aerial surveys of infrastructure and roads. It's the first time a UAS has been authorized for commercial operation over land.
BP and UAS manufacturer AeroVironment received the clearance from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly an AeroVironment Puma AE. The "AE" stands for "all environment."
"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."
BP will be able to use the drone to survey pipelines, roads and equipment at Prudhoe Bay, AK, the largest oilfield in the United States. AeroVironment performed the first flight for BP last Sunday (June 8).
The Puma AE is a small, hand-launched UAS that is about 4.5 feet long and has a wingspan of nine feet. Using the information generated by the Puma's sensors, BP hopes to 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.
Last summer, the FAA issued restricted category type certificates to the Puma and Insitu's Scan Eagle, another small UAS. The certificates were limited to aerial surveillance only over Arctic waters. The FAA recently modified the data sheet of the Puma's certificate to allow operations over land after AeroVironment showed that the Puma could perform such flights safely.