Amazon.com Inc has won approval from U.S. federal regulators to test a delivery drone outdoors, as the e-commerce company pursues its goal of sending packages to customers by air, even as it faces public concern about safety and privacy.
The Federal Aviation Administration said on Thursday it issued an experimental airworthiness certificate to an Amazon business unit and its prototype drone, allowing test flights over private, rural land in Washington state.
The FAA also granted Amazon an exemption from other flight restrictions so the experimental drone can conduct those flights.
The approval is a win for Seattle-based Amazon, the largest e-commerce company in the United States, and advances plans by the company and others to deliver packages using small, self-piloted aircraft.
The e-commerce giant had been pressing the FAA for clearance to test its Prime Air drone since last July, seven months after it first unveiled the ambitious plan.
Frustrated by the administration’s apparent lack of movement on the issue, and in an effort to apply pressure on the agency, Paul Misener, Amazon’s VP of global public policy, threatened to move the company’s testing program overseas, taking research funds and jobs with it. Indeed, the company has already announced plans for a new R&D center in the UK, with much of its work expected to focus on Prime Air.
Amazon had asked for permission to fly at altitudes up to 500 feet but they must keep flights below 400 feet and keep the drone in sight, according to the FAA.
As part of Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos’ plan to deliver its Prime Air packages, the company is developing drones that fly at speeds of 50 miles per hour (80 kph), operate autonomously and sense and avoid objects. Amazon also is working with NASA on an air-traffic management system for drones.
Amazon sought permission from the FAA to test drones in outdoor areas near Seattle, where one of its research and development labs is developing the technology. The company has conducted test flights outside the United States, in countries with looser restrictions.
In February, the FAA proposed long-awaited rules to try to set U.S. guidelines for drones, addressing growing interest from both individual and corporations in using unmanned aerial vehicles. The draft rules still must undergo public comment and revision before becoming final, which is expected to take at least a year.