FAA issued the first restricted type certificates to permit commercial operations with unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) recently, authorizing Insitu's Scan Eagle X200 and AeroVironment's PUMA to begin flying commercial missions within the National Airspace System (NAS).
(AeroVironment's hand-launched Puma UAS. Photo, courtesy of AeroVironment.)
The new type certificates mark an aviation milestone for the agency, as private UAS operators were previously only able to obtain experimental airworthiness certificates that specifically excluded commercial operations. Both the Scan Eagle and the PUMA fall under FAA's "small" UAS category, weighing less than 55 pounds and measuring about 4.5 feet in length. Previous military acceptance of the two designs for these aircraft allowed FAA to issue the restricted category certification.
After receiving the new type certification, AeroVironment said it expects its PUMA UAS to begin operating later this summer in support of emergency response crews for oil spill monitoring and wildlife observation off the coast of the Beaufort sea in the Arctic circle.
“This certificate represents an aviation milestone that could not have happened without the FAA’s vision and leadership,” said Tim Conver, AeroVironment chairman and chief executive officer. “Aerial observation missions can now be safely accomplished in hazardous Arctic locations, which will reduce the risk of manned aviation in an efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly manner. We believe initial operations in the Arctic can lead to long-term broad adoption for similar applications elsewhere in the United States and throughout the world.”
The ScanEagle will begin ship-launched flights off the coast of Alaska in August to begin surveying ocean ice and migrating whales in Arctic oil exploration areas.
FAA has targeted 2015 as its goal of widespread integration of UAS into the NAS, and the issuance of the new restricted type certificates is a major step toward that goal. According to a recent report issued by the Aerospace Industries Association
(AIA), the integration of UAS into civil airspace has the potential to generate $89 billion over the next decade, as businesses and government agencies develop new civil and commercial applications for different platforms.