WASHINGTON — Four companies won approval Wednesday to fly commercial drones to conduct aerial surveys, monitor construction sites and inspect oil flare stacks, the Federal Aviation Administration announced.
The approvals for Trimble Navigation Limited (TRMB), VDOS Global, Clayco Inc. and Woolpert Inc. come as the FAA drafts comprehensive regulations for drones to share the skies with passenger planes.
“The FAA’s first priority is the safety of our nation’s aviation system,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said. “Today’s exemptions are a step toward integrating (unmanned aerial systems) operations safely.”
Michael Toscano, CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, called the FAA action a positive step, but that the agency needs to complete its regulations to allow broader use of drones.
According to their FAA applications:
• Trimble’s UX5 drone weighs 5.5 pounds and performs precision aerial surveys by taking digital photographs.
• VDOS plans to fly Aeryon SkyRanger drones to inspect flare stacks for Shell Oil in the Gulf of Mexico.
• Clayco plans to fly Skycatch multi-rotor drones to survey construction sites.
• Woolpert plans to fly Altavian Nova Block III drones, which weigh 15 pounds and are 5 feet long with a 9-foot wing span, to map rural Ohio and Ship Island, Miss.
Drones “will change the way we conduct some of our existing business in the not-too-distant future, but more importantly, will create completely new and world-changing applications we haven’t even thought of yet,” said Jeff Lovin, a Woolpert senior vice president.