Rise of the Drones: Unmanned Aircraft Sneak Into the Arctic



Jeremy Hsu

Small drones may soon take to the skies above Earth’s top with the aim of making survival there easier for both humans and wild animals. Such unmanned aircraft flown represent the first in a coming wave of Arctic drones that could watch out for oil spills, track ice floes and migrating whales, or help the U.S. Coast Guard in search and rescue operations.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently gave its first restricted approval for two commercial drone operations in the Arctic — a first step toward routine use of drones by companies aiming to monitor rich fisheries, expand oil-drilling operations and send more shipping across the increasingly ice-free summer waters of the Arctic Ocean. But several companies had already partnered with the University of Alaska Fairbanks to conduct experimental tests of drones in Alaska under FAA waivers or certificates of authorization.

“We’ve done work for oil companies, but it’s also research because they and we are trying to figure out if unmanned aircraft are effective and good for the job,” said Ro Bailey, deputy director of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.