The first commercial drones have been cleared for takeoff in the US. Last Friday, two unmanned aerial vehicles were approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which for the first time will allow businesses to fully operate drones over American soil. The FAA says that “a major energy company” intends to put them to use beginning next month. One will be flown over the Alaskan coast, monitoring ice flows and the migration of whales, while the other will be used to support response crews dealing with oil spills and wildlife surveillance north of Alaska over the Beaufort Sea.
While different types of small drones are already being used inside the US, they’ve largely been approved for public agencies and testing purposes — not for general use by businesses. The FAA says that this first approval is a milestone, and that it will allow drones to be integrated into the United States’ airspace. That integration became a requirement last year, following the passage of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act. Both of the approved drones — Insitu’s Scan Eagle X200 and AeroVironment’s PUMA — fall under the FAA’s “small” size class, though they have wingspans of nine feet and bodies around 4.5 feet long. The drones had previously been authorized for military use, and were designed with surveillance purposes in mind.