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FAA Issues Its First Certificates For Commercial Flight Of Unmanned Aircraft
By Steve Hall

July 28, 2013 - The Federal Aviation Administration has issued restricted category type certificates to a pair of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), a milestone that will lead to the first approved commercial UAS operations later this summer. 

The newly certified UAS Insitu’s Scan Eagle X200 and AeroVironment’s PUMA—are “small” UAS weighing less than 55 pounds. Each is about 4 ½ feet long, with wingspans of ten and nine feet, respectively. 

ScanEagle is a small, low cost, long endurance UAV built by Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing. The ScanEagle is based on the Insitu SeaScan, a commercial UAV that helped fishermen look for fish.


The major advantage of having type certificated UAS models available is that they can be used commercially. The Scan Eagle and PUMA received Restricted Category type certificates that permit aerial surveillance. Researchers and other entities now will be able to perform aerial observation at significantly lower operational costs compared to manned aircraft. 

Until now, obtaining an experimental airworthiness certificate which specifically excludes commercial operations was the only way the private sector could operate UAS in the nation’s airspace. Previous military acceptance of the Scan Eagle and PUMA UAS designs allowed the FAA to issue the Restricted Category type certificates. 

A major energy company plans to fly the ScanEagle off the Alaska coast in international waters starting in August. Plans for the initial ship-launched flights include surveys of ocean ice floes and migrating whales in Arctic oil exploration areas. The PUMA is expected to support emergency response crews for oil spill monitoring and wildlife surveillance over the Beaufort Sea.

Issuing the type certificates is an important step toward the FAA’s goal of integrating UAS into the nation’s airspace. These flights will also meet requirements in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 that define Arctic operational areas and include a mandate to increase Arctic UAS commercial operations. 



“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.”

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