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Amazon Gets Permission to Test Drones in US Airspace

The FAA will allow Amazon to test its drones, the agency revealed on Thursday. The Federal Aviation Administration 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.

“One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road,” Amazon said of its drone program on its website, after revealing the drones in a dramatic PR feat on the 60 Minutes television show in late 2013.

“We will deploy when and where we have the regulatory support needed to realize our vision,” according to the Amazon Prime Air description. “We’re excited about this technology and one day using it to deliver packages to customers around the world in 30 minutes or less.”

The FAA outlined the provisions Amazon must follow with the newly issued certificate:

Under the provisions of the certificate, all flight operations must be conducted at 400 feet or below during daylight hours in visual meteorological conditions. The UAS must always remain within visual line-of-sight of the pilot and observer. The pilot actually flying the aircraft must have at least a private pilot’s certificate and current medical certification.

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.

After the FAA issued its proposed rules for drones last month, Paul Misener, Amazon’s VP of global public policy, had strong words for the FAA. He said the rules would not allow Prime Air to operate in the U.S. for years, and said the FAA needed to complete the formal process to address the needs of Amazon’s business and its customers.

He also indicated the company would be looking outside the U.S. “We are committed to realizing our vision for Prime Air and are prepared to deploy where we have the regulatory support we need,” Misener said in the statement.

Amazon has said it is testing many different vehicle components, designs and configurations, with Prime Air development centers in the U.S., UK, and Israel, and “multiple international locations.”

Others agree the U.S. is too slow to support innovation in unmanned aircraft.

The FAA’s tweet on Thursday about the new Amazon certificate generated some discussion, including tweeted comments by Brendan Schulman, Special Counsel in the Litigation Department of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, who heads the firm’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems practice.

Schulman, who defends civilian drone operators in connection with FAA investigations, said there were other ways to support innovation “rather than stubbornly using 50-year-old manned aircraft regulations.”

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.