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(29/08/2013) The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued Restricted Category type certificates to a pair of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), leading to the first approved commercial UAS operations this summer. A major energy company plans to fly the ScanEagle off Alaska in international waters. 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.

The 2 newly certified UAS — Insitu’s Scan Eagle X200 and AeroVironment’s PUMA — are “small” UAS each weighing less than 55 pounds. They are about 4½ 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 have 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.

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.

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