The first commercial UAS operation is not being revealed yet, but both the ScanEagle and Puma certificates include in the flight limitation: “Only for operation in the designated Arctic area as defined by the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.”
Under the Act, Congress directed the FAA to develop an Arctic UAS operation plan and designate permanent areas where small unmanned aircraft may operate 24 hr. a day for research and commercial purposes.
ScanEagle operations will take place “in a very remote location,” McDuffee says. “That is the key to risk mitigation. We will be operating [in] a block of airspace that is essentially sterile, where the likelihood of an encounter with an uncooperative aircraft is zero.”
The final step that remains, “just prior to commercial operations,” McDuffee says, is for the FAA to issue an airworthiness certificate for the complete ScanEagle system, including air vehicle, ground control station and launch and recovery equipment.
“Once it is complete and in one place, the FAA will take a look at the system to certify it is airworthy,” he says. The date for that final approval step still has to be determined, but will be “sometime between now and 1 October.”