The Federal Aviation Administration has granted permission for the first commercial drone aircraft to fly over U.S. land. In an announcement on Tuesday, the FAA approved BP and drone-maker AeroVironment's plan to fly aerial surveys over Alaska's North Slope.
BP wants to collect information on its operations at Prudhoe Bay, America's largest oil field. USA Today reports:
Until now, the FAA has approved drones for public safety, such as police or firefighters, or for academic research, on a case-by-case basis. AeroVironment demonstrated its mapping and inspection services in Prudhoe Bay in September 2013, under an FAA certificate authorized through the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.
Drones have occasionally flown commercially without FAA authorization, such as for the making of the movie "The Wolf of Wall Street." But the FAA contends it has the authority to regulate the flights – and hasn't previously approved commercial flights over land – as it fights to uphold a $10,000 fine against one drone pilot in a challenge before the National Transportation Safety Board.
Meanwhile, many places and organizations are taking steps to proactively regulate and limit the use of drones. For example, Yosemite National Park has banned the use of personal drones such as radio-controlled quadcopters. Also, the FAA reprimanded the Washington Nationals for using a drone during this year's spring training.