Commercial Drones To Fly Over Alaska

The drones will check BP pipelines. Disruptive this isn't.

RQ-20 Puma

The Puma drone in military use.Aerovironment

Drones are exciting pieces of technology, yet most of their applications are quite dull. One of the most common: flying over large, empty spaces to make sure everything is okay. Today, the Federal Aviation Administration announced the first-ever authorization of a commercial drone flight over land, and, as you might expect, it's not the sexiest of missions. The oil and gas company BP will fly a small drone over pipelines in Alaska. The first flight took place on June 8th.

BP is flying an Aerovironment Puma, which the U.S. Army and Marine Corps both used in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is hand-launched, has both an infrared and regular camera, and can be piloted remotely or fly autonomously on a pre-set path. Previously, both Puma and Scan Eagle drones were authorized to fly over Arctic waters, but authorization for overland flight is new.

Here's what the FAA says about how BP will use the drone:

The Puma AE is a small, hand-launched UAS that is about 4 1/2 feet long and has a wingspan of 9 feet. Using the information generated by the Puma’s sensors, BP hopes to target maintenance activities on specific roads and infrastructure, which will save time and support safety and operational reliability goals, while helping to protect the sensitive North Slope environment.

Below, the kind of landscape the drone will be flying over.

Prudhoe Bay Oil Fields, North Slope, 1971

These are some of BP's oilfields in Alaska.U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service