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BP to fly first commercial drone flight over U.S. land

| Tuesday, June 10, 2014, 9:06 p.m.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced on Tuesday that permission for the first commercial drone to fly over U.S. land has gone to oil company BP and drone manufacturer AeroVironment to fly aerial surveys over Alaska's North Slope.

AeroVironment flew a Puma AE drone on its first commercial flight on Sunday to survey BP pipelines, roads and equipment at Prudhoe Bay, the nation's largest oil field, the FAA said.

Using the Puma's sensors, BP hopes to target maintenance activities in an effort to save time, improve safety and increase reliability in the sensitive North Slope environment, according to the FAA.

“These surveys on Alaska's North Slope are another important step toward broader commercial use of unmanned aircraft,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who oversees the FAA.

The announcement occurs as the drone industry urges faster FAA approval of commercial drones for jobs that are too dangerous or boring for people to fly conventional aircraft.

Brendan Schulman, a New York lawyer specializing in drones at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, said the permission was granted for a drone approved by the Defense Department for military purposes, so the decision wouldn't allow for the variety of commercial purposes that many in the industry have in mind.

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