The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) required the FAA to:
Initiate a process to work with relevant Federal agencies and national and international communities to designate permanent areas in the Arctic where small unmanned aircraft may operate 24 hours per day for research and commercial purposes and Search and Rescue (SAR) operations. The plan for operations in these permanent areas shall include the development of processes to facilitate the safe operation of unmanned aircraft beyond line of sight (BLOS). Such areas shall enable over-water flights from the surface to at least 2,000 feet in altitude, with ingress and egress routes from selected coastal launch sites.
The FAA's UAS Integration Office (AFS-80), is responsible for the safe, efficient, and timely integration of UAS into the NAS. AFS-80 collaboratively develops operating concepts, policies, requirements, criteria, and procedures for new system evaluations, integration, and implementation of emerging UAS technologies and was tasked with developing and overseeing implementation of the Arctic small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) Plan.
On November 1, 2012, the FAA released its Arctic Implementation Plan (PDF), signed by the Secretary of Transportation, to inform interested parties, operators, Federal agencies, and international communities of its plan to establish permanent operational areas and corridor routes in the Arctic for the operation of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).
In order to authorize the summer 2013 sUAS Beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) operations, AFS-80 hired a program manager in February of 2013. Initial project tasks included forming a safety risk management (SRM) panel to identify risks and mitigations, including air traffic density analysis associated with the proposed UAS BLOS operations in compliance with Section 335, "Safety Studies", of the FMRA. The SRM panel considered three (3) UAS BLOS operations in the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea as described below. The associated SRM document (SRMD) was signed by the FAA on July 15, 2013. Rules and Code of Federal Regulations (CFRs) applicable to manned aircraft were utilized to authorize the operations since UAS rules do not exist at this time.
Since then, two sUAS operations have commenced in the Arctic.
The first began in September 2013. ConcoPhillips began using Insitu's ScanEagle for their marine mammal and ice surveys.
The second began in June 2014. BP began using AeroVironment's Puma AE to survey its pipelines, roads, and equipment at Prudhoe Bay, AK, the largest oilfield in the United States.