The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration expects that energy company ConocoPhillips will make the first commercial flight of an unmanned aircraft today. Under a restricted category type certification the FAA awarded in July, ConocoPhillips will launch an Insitu ScanEagle from the research vessel Westward Wind in the Chukchi Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean west of Alaska.
Jim Williams, manager of the FAA’s UAS integration office, revealed the expected first-flight milestone during a presentation at the NextGen Ahead conference in Washington, D.C. ConocoPhillips did not immediately return a message seeking confirmation.
[On Wednesday afternoon, the company confirmed that the first flight was planned for today, but it had not yet received a status report that it was conducted. “We hope to have more information available as the week progresses,” said a ConocoPhillips spokeswoman. —BC]
The FAA awarded restricted type certifications on July 19 for the catapult-launched ScanEagle and the hand-launched AeroVironment Puma AE, for the first time permitting operators to use unmanned aircraft for commercial purposes—in both cases in remote Arctic airspace. The agency expects ConocoPhillips will use the ScanEagle to monitor whale migrations and ice flows in the Chukchi Sea. It has an agreement with the company to collect data about the aircraft’s flight operations, and an inspector from the agency’s Alaska region was due to accompany the first mission.