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And the First US Commercial Drone License Goes To... BP

Authorization comes as FAA moves to integrate commercial drones into American skies

BP test flies an Aeryon Scout drone over Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in December 2012. (Photo: Screen Shot / BP)

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Tuesday it has granted oil giant BP the first-ever approval to fly drones for commercial purposes over U.S. land.

Manufactured by AeroVironment, the drone is slated to conduct aerial surveillance over Prudhoe Bay in Alaska's Northern Slope. The Bay is home to the largest oil field in North America, and is plagued with routine spills, environmental damage, and air pollution.

BP and AeroVironment launched the first drone flight on Sunday under a license that expires in five years, according to AeroVironment. The drone, a "Puma AE," is about 4.5 feet long with a wingspan of 9 feet, according to the FAA.

Based in Monrovia, California, AeroVironment has been slammed as a war profiteer because it is a major supplier of small drones to the U.S. military, including the Switchblade, which conducts surveillance and can transform into a small bomb.

The green light for BP follows the FAA's temporary approval last year of drone flights over Arctic waters in preparation for fossil fuel exploration.

The authorization is the latest sign that oil and gas companies are leading the way in commercial drone use. Last year, the FAA granted ConocoPhillips authorization to fly drones over Arctic waters for the purpose of drilling for fossil fuels.

The drone license could be a sign of what's in store for the future, as the FAA moves to implement orders from Congress to integrate drones into U.S. airspace by 2015.

Last December, the FAA launched a drone testing program at public institutions in six states across the U.S. as part of this plan.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx declared in a statement about authorization for BP drone flights, “These surveys on Alaska’s North Slope are another important step toward broader commercial use of unmanned aircraft."


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