The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced the approval of the first commercial  flights of drones over land for British energy company, BP plc (ADR) (NYSE:BP) (LON:BP) and AeroVironment, the manufacturer of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

FAA Drones

The permit allows BP plc (ADR) (NYSE:BP) (LON:BP) to fly the AeroVironment, Inc. (NASDAQ:AVAV) Puma AE for over Alaska for aerial surveys.

According to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, “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.”

BP plc (ADR) (NYSE:BP) (LON:BP) received a Certificate of Waiver of Authorization to survey its pipelines, roads and equipment at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska from the FAA. Prudhoe Bay is the largest oilfield in the United States.

BP’s plans

AeroVironment, Inc. (NASDAQ:AVAV) performed the first drone flight for the British energy company on June 8. BP plc (ADR) (NYSE:BP) (LON:BP) will use the information gathered by the sensors drones to target maintenance activities on specific roads and infrastructures to save time, support safety and operational reliability goals while helping in protecting the sensitive North Slope environment.

AeriVironment’s Puma AE is a small, hand-launched UAS (approximately 4½ feet long) with a wing span of 9 feet.

AeroVironment’s CEO Tim Conver said the drones will help BP pc (ADR) (NYSE:BP) (LON: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.”

2012 Reauthorization law

The FAA said it had issued restricted category type certificates to the Puma and Insitu’s Scan Eagle, another small UAS. The agency said the certificates were limited and only allows aerial surveillance over Arctic waters last month.

The agency changed the restricted category type certificate of the Puma AE drone and allowed its operations over land after AeroVironment, Inc. (NASDAQ:AVAV) demonstrated that it can perform flights safely.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta explained that the 2012 Reauthorization law mandated the agency to integrate small UAS in the Arctic on a permanent basis. He said, “This operation will help us accomplish the goal set for us by Congress.”

Small step in the right direction

Brendan Schulman, a lawyer specializing in drones at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP commented that the FAA’s move is a “small step in the right direction,” but he emphasized that it was only for companies willing to operate in very remote locations using military surplus equipment

According to Shulman, “The FAA is essentially using the military’s prior experience with this specific drone platform in place of the agency’s airworthiness certification requirements, so it is not an option for people hoping to use the newer drones being designed by high-tech startups that are not involved in military applications.”