FAA ruling makes BP the first company that can legally use drones over US land

AeroVironment Puma AE drone

BP can legally use drones for mapping and monitoring purposes after the FAA waived the national rule that unmanned aerial vehicles cannot be used for commercial purposes.

The ruling is only in effect for BP in Alaska, where the company maintains oilfields, pipelines, roads and other infrastructure. The drones can use sensors to spot areas that need repair, map land that is in use or of interest and track assets like trucks, specifically in relation to BP’s Prudhoe Bay oil operations.

“That’s more data in 45 minutes than we’ve gotten in the last 30 years,” BP technology office director Curt Smith told the Wall Street Journal, in regard to a drone 3D mapping a gravel pit. “It’s revolutionary.”

An AeroVironment Puma AE being launched by hand. Photo courtesy of AeroVironment.

An AeroVironment Puma AE being launched by hand. Photo courtesy of AeroVironment.

BP has been officially using drones since Sunday. The aircraft are made and operated by AeroVironment, which makes the 4 and a half foot long Puma AE drone. It resembles a plane more than the four-rotor quadcopters most consumers use and is hand launched.

BP first asked for information from the FAA regarding drone flight a year ago, according to AeroVironment. The drone maker then tested its monitoring and 3D mapping abilities, plus wildlife protection, ice floe monitoring, search and rescue and oil spill response.

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