In light of a decision to grant one company the first permit to fly drones over land, experts in San Diego hope it will pave the way for expanding the drone industry here.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday it has granted the first permission for commercial drone flights over land, the latest effort by the agency to show it is loosening restrictions on commercial uses of the unmanned aircraft.
The BP energy corporation has been given permission to use a Puma drone to survey pipelines, roads and equipment at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, the FAA said. The first flight took place on Sunday.
Made by AeroVironment of Monrovia, California, the Puma is a small, hand-launched craft about 4 1/2 feet long and with a 9-foot wingspan. It was initially designed for military use.
In San Diego, there are hundreds who are party of this industry. Experts convened at a summit on Tuesday to brainstorm ways to promote the drone industry in California – thought of by some as a leader in the unmanned aircraft world.
The summit was underway in the afternoon at Liberty Station Conference Center to bring together experts in the field to discuss opportunities for economic growth and balancing privacy and innovation.
Experts want to make California a “center of excellence” in the drone industry, a distinction given by the FAA that allows a region to perform specialized research to promote drone technology.
“California as a whole is well positioned to become a leader in the unmanned aircraft world. San Diego, in particular, has several large defense manufacturers that have been involved with unmanned aircrafts for years,” said Gretchen West of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
Sarah Lubeck of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation also believes San Diego is well positioned to be a leader in the drone industry.
She said there are three large defense contractors in the area as well as other smaller drone companies and part of Tuesday’s conference aims to draw light to them.
Some drone company owners, however, have been reluctant to move forward with business until the FAA’s decision. One owner who spoke with NBC 7 on Tuesday said he knew there are issues with privacy and regulations for safety, but that the FAA should keep up with technology.
Drones are often less expensive to operate than manned aircraft and easier to maneuver. Equipped with 3D cameras, the Puma will provide images of hard-to-reach places not currently available, BP and AeroVironment say.