Amazon is making strides in the development of Amazon Prime Air, the company's oft-parodied but completely serious drone delivery service. Their newest delivery drones (currently ninth-gen) can travel over 50 mph and can carry five-pound packages – which covers 86 percent of all products sold on Amazon.
They've been able to make these advancements through research, development, and testing indoors and in other countries – but in order to really ramp up the project, they're going to need some space. Some American space.
Amazon has petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration, asking for an exemption from their commercial drone (sUAS) ban.
"Current FAA rules allow hobbyists and manufacturers of model aircraft wide latitude in flying their sUAS outdoors. Because Amazon is a commercial enterprise we have been limited to conducting R&D flights indoors or in other countries. Of course, Amazon would prefer to keep the focus, jobs, and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States by conducting private research and development operations outdoors near Seattle – where our next generation R&D lab and distinguished team of engineers, scientists and aeronautical professionals are located," says Amazon in a letter to FAA administrator Michael Huerta.
The FAA has several designated testing locations around the country, but Amazon wants to fly their drones close to home, in Seattle.
The FAA grants exemptions on a case-by-case basis, and only in situations where the petitioner can prove that operating their unmanned aircraft will provide a benefit to the public, and also no harm.
"Granting Amazon an exemption to allow R&D testing outdoors in the United States is in the public interest because it advances Congress’s goal of getting commercial sUAS flying in the United States safely and soon. It is a necessary step towards realizing the consumer benefits of Amazon Prime Air and, at this point, Amazon’s continuing innovation in the United States requires the requested exemption for outdoor testing in support of our R&D," says Amazon.
"Further, granting this request will do nothing more than allow Amazon to do what thousands of hobbyists and manufacturers of model aircraft do every day, and we will abide by much stronger safety measures than currently required for these groups by FAA policies and regulations. In this petition for exemption, we seek to engage in essentially the same type of sUAS operation that the FAA would permit us to currently – but for the fact that Amazon is not a hobbyist or manufacturer of a model aircraft."
But some do.
Amazon says their drones, which weigh no more than 55 pounds, will be flown at 400 feet or lower.
"We will effectively operate our own private model airplane field, but with additional safeguards that go far beyond those that FAA has long‐held provide a sufficient level of safety for public model airplane fields – and only with sUAS. Indeed, the combination of geo‐fencing and lost‐link procedures sUAS stays within the tightly defined operating area within our private property," says Amazon.
Last month, the FAA approved the first-ever commercial drone flight over land, allowing sUAS to survey BP pipelines in Alaska. Amazon is far from the only ones asking the FAA for waivers.
Image via Amazon