Federal regulators in the the U.S. say they have certified two types of unmanned aircraft for civilian use, a milestone expected to lead to the first approved commercial drone operations in the U.S. later this summer.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday the drones, officially named unmanned air vehicles (UAV) or unmanned air systems (UAS), are Insitu's Scan Eagle X200 and AeroVironment's PUMA.
Both fixed-wing aircraft look like miniature planes and weigh less than 25 kilograms each, are a metre and a half long and have wingspans of 3 metres. The UAV-makers already have clients lined up. A major energy company plans to fly the Scan Eagle off the Alaska coast starting next month to survey ice floes and migrating whales.
The PUMA is expected to support emergency response crews for oil spill monitoring and wildlife surveillance over the Beaufort Sea.
Up until now, most nonmilitary use of UAVs in the U.S. has been limited to police and other government agencies.
In Canada, UAVs have been used commercially since 2008. Transport Canada governs their uses, which range from aerial mapping and photography to aiding the RCMP with search and rescue operations.