FAA Opens Door to Approving Commercial Drone Operations

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HIGHLIGHTS:

  • On June 10, 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the first commercial drone operation over land in the United States.
  • Current FAA regulations prohibit any use of drones for commercial or business purposes, however, the FAA will grant waivers under limited circumstances.

Today, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the first commercial drone operation over land in the United States. The FAA, which refers to drones as unmanned aerial systems (UAS), has given energy corporation British Petroleum (BP) and UAS manufacturer AeroVironment permission to fly drones to conduct aerial surveys of BP pipelines, roads and equipment in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska – the largest oilfield in the U.S. This waiver follows the FAA's earlier approval of drone operations to conduct aerial surveillance over Arctic waters.

Current FAA regulations prohibit any use of drones for commercial or business purposes, however, the FAA will grant waivers under limited circumstances. For example, the FAA has approved the use of drones for experimental research and development and for training and flight demonstrations. President Obama, in 2012, signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act into law, requiring the transportation secretary to develop a plan to safely accelerate the integration of civil UAS into the national airspace by Sept. 30, 2015.

After significant deliberation, today's approval is a concrete step by the FAA to integrate commercial and civil UAS into the national air space. The FAA is also considering requests for additional commercial UAS operations from other industries, including film and TV production, precision agriculture, power line and pipeline inspection, and oil and gas flare-stack inspection. Likewise, three of the six test sites that the FAA has established to collect data to inform regulatory efforts are now operational. The test sites are partnering with various industries to develop data to safely and effectively integrate commercial drones into the national airspace.

These are encouraging signs for businesses in the U.S. that believe UAS can spur innovation and improve safety, showing that the FAA continues its work to create a sensible regulatory structure that allows for the safe and legal use of drones.

 


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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