The Federal Aviation Administration has granted Amazon an "experimental airworthiness certificate" that allows the company to begin research and training on its fleet of delivery drones, what the company calls Amazon Prime Air. Unfortunately for Amazon, the certificate comes with some of the same restrictions the FAA proposed in its comprehensive drone regulations back in February.
"The Federal Aviation Administration today issued an experimental airworthiness certificate to an Amazon Logistics, Inc. unmanned aircraft (UAS) design that the company will use for research and development and crew training. The FAA typically issues experimental certificates to manufacturers and technology developers to operate a UAS that does not have a type certificate," said the FAA in a release.
The FAA says that the certificate only allows daylight drone flights with a 400-foot max height. Also, the drone pilot is required to have "at least a private pilot's certificate and current medical certification."
But probably the most troublesome to Amazon's drone purposes is the line-of-sight rule, which limits all drone flights to those in which the pilot can physically see the aircraft.
"The certificate also requires Amazon to provide monthly data to the FAA. The company must report the number of flights conducted, pilot duty time per flight, unusual hardware or software malfunctions, any deviations from air traffic controllers’ instructions, and any unintended loss of communication links. The FAA includes these reporting requirements in all UAS experimental airworthiness certificates," said the FAA.
Last month, the FAA released its long-awaited proposal for new regulations on commercial drones. The proposed rules were not as restrictive as some feared, but they do limit drone flight enough to make Amazon's dream of drone delivery pretty difficult to nearly impossible.
Amazon wasn't thrilled, saying,
"The FAA's proposed rules for small UAS could take one or two years to be adopted and, based on the proposal, even then those rules wouldn't allow Prime Air to operate in the United States. The FAA needs to begin and expeditiously complete the formal process to address the needs of our business, and ultimately our customers. We are committed to realizing our vision for Prime Air and are prepared to deploy where we have the regulatory support we need."
In other words, we're going overseas.
The FAA's new exemption may work for testing, and convince Amazon to stay here with that – but the rules the agency has proposed are in no way Amazon-friendly. Unless something changes, a future where your new pair of shoes is quietly dropped off by a quadcopter looks like a longshot.