Amazon Logistics, Inc. was granted an experimental airworthiness certificate by the Federal Aviation Administration March 19, to test new designs of drones – also known as “unmanned aircraft systems” – that the company plans to use for research and development and crew training. However, this victory for the e-commerce giant comes with many strings attached.
The government agency is requiring Amazon to keep all flights at 400 feet or below during daylight hours – only in clear weather – and the drone must always been in a visual line-of-sight of the operator. Amazon had requested that it be allowed to fly the drones up to 500 feet in altitude, but was denied.
Under FAA rules, the operator also must have a private pilot’s certificate and current medical certification. Amazon must report monthly data to the FAA, including the number of flights conducted, pilot duty time per flight, any unusual hardware or software malfunctions, deviations from air traffic controllers’ instructions and unintended losses of communication.
The test flights will be conducted over private rural land in Washington state. Amazon was testing the unmanned aircraft indoors in one of its facilities in Washington. Amazon also has tested drones outside the U.S. in countries with looser restrictions.
Amazon has been pursuing a drone delivery method, since CEO Jeff Bezos first spoke about it in an interview with the American “60 Minutes” TV show in late 2013. Bezos said the drones would be able to carry loads up to five-pounds within a 10-mile radius of an Amazon warehouse with delivery in approximately 30 minutes. He calls the program Amazon Prime Air.
Last month, as reported in Air Cargo World, the FAA released a proposed set of rules regarding unmanned aircraft systems, which are similar to the restrictions proposed on Amazon. For more information click here.
When those rules were released, Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice-president for global public policy said “the FAA’s proposed rules for small drones could take one or two years to be adopted and, based on the proposal, even those rules wouldn’t allow Prime Air to operate in the United States.”
But this is a small victory for Amazon, which was prohibited from testing drones outdoors in the U.S. before.
Find opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region, the world’s most dynamic airfreight market, at Cargo Facts Asia, April 21-22 in Hong Kong. Get more information here.