FAA approves drone use over Alaskan oil fields

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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The federal government has given the green light to private drone flights over America’s Last Frontier.

The Federal Aviation Administration approved oil giant ConocoPhillips’ application to fly two small unmanned aerial vehicles UAVs over the Alaskan Arctic Ocean, The Associated Press reports.

The company says it’s not ready to fly the aircraft yet, but hopes to use the UAVs — formally called unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones — to survey Arctic Ocean ice flows and the migration of whales in oil exploration areas.

ConocoPhillips also plans to use the aircraft for “emergency response monitoring and wildlife surveillance over the Beaufort Sea,” reports the AP.

The two types of UASs the FAA approved for ConocoPhillips’ use are the AeroEnvironment Puma AE and the Insitu ScanEagle.

Engadget reported in July that the two aircraft were the first UASs approved for commercial use.

Environmental surveying, wildlife management and search-and-rescue missions are among the various anticipated uses for domestic drones.

The UAS industry, unhappy about the stigma the aerial platform has earned in the media, has begun pushing back against calling the machines drones, due to the word’s association with war and death.

That stigma has provoked privacy organizations to advocate for the federal government to exercise caution and deliberation as the FAA introduces the aircraft into domestic airspace.

The Aerospace States Association (ASA), headed by Alaska Senate candidate Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, recently released a paper in Washington, D.C. advocating that law enforcement obtain a warrant before using a drone to track suspects.

Law enforcement officers have also advocated against the arming of domestic law enforcement drones, although in 2010 the federal Customs and Border Protection agency proposed arming the aircraft with non-lethal weapons.

In February, the Electronic Privacy Information Center discovered through a Freedom of Information Act request that CBPs drones are also capable of intercepting electronic communications and identifying human targets.

In June, FierceHomelandSecurity reported that CBP drones increased its drone flights on behalf of other federal agencies

CBP, — a federal law enforcement agency inside of the Department of Homeland Security — flew missions on behalf of the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Marshalls, and various state law enforcement agencies, reports the publication.

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