The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has awarded permission for the first commercial drone over land to BP, of all companies. The oil company’s partner, drone manufacturer AeroVironment, flew its first commercial flight in Alaska on Sunday. And it didn’t just send a dinky quadcopter to do the job either.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the country’s first commercial drone looks less like a hobbyist toy and more like what the military uses on the battlefield. In fact, AeroVironment’s Puma AE drone is one of the military’s favourite models. At nearly 1.5m long with a wingspan of 3m, this is a sizeable aircraft. (That’s a Navy admiral launching one above.) This makes good sense when you consider that the drone’s main duty will be patrolling BP’s oil pipelines in Alaska. AeroVironment’s five-year contract with BP also stipulates that the aircraft will do some 3D-mapping, wildlife monitoring and the occasional search-and-rescue mission.
This is a good thing. It’s no mystery that drones can do a lot of good by taking over jobs that humans can’t or won’t do. Patrolling potentially dangerous pipelines in Alaska’s deep wilderness certainly qualifies. The location also largely skirts around the privacy issue that the FAA’s struggled to address in its ongoing process of writing the rules that will dictate how commercial drones will operate in the United States.
However, the details of this news show that the FAA definitely does not intend to open the floodgates to commercial drone use. The deliberateness of the FAA’s move to award special permission to specific companies that want to fly commercial drones further enforces the idea that the agency fully intends to take charge in the regulation of small autonomous and remote-controlled aircraft, despite the National Transportation Safety Board ruling a few months ago that suggested the FAA didn’t have the jurisdiction to do so.
Well, jurisdiction or not, the FAA is making deals, and commercial drones are taking flight. And too bad if you don’t like the idea of camera-equipped robots flying around your house in the near future. There’s frankly not much you can do about it. [USA Today]
Pictures: AP, AeroVironment