One Giant Leap for Unmanned-kind

Great title to this post, but not an original one  – it belongs to the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) as part of a significant announcement.

Specifically, the FAA has issued restricted category type certificates to a pair of unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”), a milestone that will lead to the first approved commercial UAS operations later this summer.

The full press release can be access here and reads:

The newly certified UAS—Insitu’s Scan Eagle X200 and AeroVironment’s PUMA—are “small” UAS weighing less than 55 pounds. Each is about 4 ½ feet long, with wingspans of ten and nine feet, respectively.

The major advantage of having type-certificated UAS models available is that they can be used commercially. The Scan Eagle and PUMA received Restricted Category type certificates that permit aerial surveillance. Until now, obtaining an experimental airworthiness certificate – which specifically excludes commercial operations—was the only way the private sector could operate UAS in the nation’s airspace.  Previous military acceptance of the Scan Eagle and PUMA UAS designs allowed the FAA to issue the Restricted Category type certificates.

A major energy company plans to fly the ScanEagle off the Alaska coast in international waters starting in August. Plans for the initial ship-launched flights include surveys of ocean ice floes and migrating whales in Arctic oil exploration areas. The PUMA is expected to support emergency response crews for oil spill monitoring and wildlife surveillance over the Beaufort Sea.

Issuing the type certificates is an important step toward the FAA’s goal of integrating UAS into the nation’s airspace.  These flights will also meet requirements in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 that define Arctic operational areas and include a mandate to increase Arctic UAS commercial operations.

The practical benefits speak for themselves and are hopeful for commercial applications.  From a legal authority, UAVs will now operate under 14 C.F.R. 21.25, which defines  the range of permissible operations, including agricultural (spraying, dusting, and seeding, and livestock and predatory animal control); forest and wildlife conservation; aerial surveying (photography, mapping, and oil and mineral exploration); patrolling (pipelines, power lines, and canals); weather control (cloud seeding); aerial advertising (skywriting, banner towing, airborne signs and public address systems); and any other operation specified by the FAA.

Big news.  Big development.