With more than a year left before it's expected to draft safety rules for UAVs, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has given its first permit for commercial drone flights over land. BP oil and drone manufacturer AeroVironment were granted approval to use the Puma AE drone, a small, hand-launched craft originally designed for the military, to do aerial surveys of roadways, pipelines, and equipment in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. The news comes as the administration gradually moves toward broader approval of drone use in US skies.

"These surveys on Alaska's North Slope are another important step toward broader commercial use of unmanned aircraft," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in an official statement. "The technology is quickly changing, and the opportunities are growing."

"The technology is quickly changing, and the opportunities are growing."

The FAA received a congressional mandate to give UAVs access to US airspace by September 2015, and even though this is a big step toward that goal, progress has thusfar been slow. The administration even overturned a ruling from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that lifted the six-year ban on small drones earlier this year, effectively putting their legality on hold. However, steps forward have been made. The first commercial drone test site opened in North Dakota last month for the express purpose of helping the FAA meet its deadline. Meanwhile, the administration is considering giving a fast track for businesses that want to use drones, and is working on giving permissions to seven aerial filmmaking companies that use drones for photography.