The FAA announced, with much fanfare, this week that it has, for “the first time . . . authorized a commercial UAS operation over land.” The FAA’s press release states that it has authorized BP to use an AeroVironment Puma for aerial surveys of oil pipelines and facilities on the North Slope of Alaska.
As we previously reported, there are indications that Congress is questioning the FAA’s ability to integrate UAS into the national airspace in a timely manner. The FAA knows that in this environment, all it can take is one or two bad news cycles for the storm to break over the agency. The FAA clearly thinks that by making a press release such as this, trumpeting, what is essentially a minor development, it is pouring oil on the angry sea of would-be UAS operators to calm it. Hopefully press releases such as this do not have the opposite effect.
While the public knows the FAA has been slow to authorize commercial UAS operations, many reading this story will be surprised to learn that, up until this week, the FAA still had not given a single authorization for commercial UAS use over land. In fact, the only other broad authorization the FAA gave was a year ago, for Puma and Insitu’s Scan Eagle for limited “aerial surveillance only over Arctic waters.” If we were to put on our “cynical hat,” we might question whether it’s the FAA’s plan to authorize UAS operations 50 miles farther South each year until it reaches the continental United States sometime mid-century.
We look forward to the day, hopefully soon, when there is a press release authorizing a commercial UAS use somewhere that is not a barren, uninhabited wilderness.
(Originally posted June 10, 2014)