WASHINGTON (Reuters) - BP has been authorized to use unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, to conduct aerial surveys of pipelines and other infrastructure on Alaska's North Slope, the first commercial drone flights over land, U.S. authorities said on Tuesday.
AeroVironment started flying its Puma AE drone to survey BP's pipelines, roads and equipment at Prudhoe Bay, the largest U.S. oilfield, on Sunday, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
The Puma AE is a small unmanned aircraft about 4 1/2 feet (1.4 metres) long with a wingspan of 9 feet (2.7 metres).
BP hopes to use the information generated by the aircraft to target maintenance needed on specific roads and infrastructure, and by doing so save time and support safety and operational reliability goals, the FAA said.
Tuesday's move follows FAA approval in 2013 for other drones to perform aerial surveillance over Arctic waters.
"These surveys on Alaska’s North Slope are another important step toward broader commercial use of unmanned aircraft," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Doina Chiacu)