Amazon's much anticipated same-day drone delivery service Prime Air reached another milestone this week: The Federal Aviation Administration has just given Amazon clearance to begin flight-testing the drones in the United States. Again. For real this time.
This is the second time in as many months that the online retail giant has received a drone testing certificate from the FAA. Last time around, however, the certificate only applied to an already-obsolete prototype. Frustrated by the Feds' inertia, Amazon recently began testing its delivery drones at a "top secret" location in Canada, just over 600m from the US border.
Now, it seems, the company can finally commence their drone tests domestically. Sez the FAA's director of flight standards service John Duncan, in a letter to Amazon:
This letter is to inform you that we have granted your request for exemption. The exemption would allow the petitioner to operate an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to conduct outdoor research and development testing for Prime Air.
The letter goes on to outline the FAA's terms and limitations, stating that Amazon can only conduct test flights up to 400 feet, that drones must not exceed 160km/h, and that they must remain within the "line of sight" of their operator at all times. No big surprises here -- these are similar to the rules outlined in last month's defunct certificate, and to the proposed rules for commercial drones that the FAA drafted in February.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos first announced his vision for Prime Air, a drone delivery service that would transport packages from company warehouses to shoppers' front doors in 30 minutes or less, in 2013. That vision is still hamstrung by the FAA's recent regulations, particularly the line-of-sight requirement.
Currently, Amazon is also prohibited from flying its drones over "densely populated areas." Still, the recent move should be taken as progress. From Amazon's perspective, it may be only a small step toward a much larger goal, but at least we seem to be moving in the right direction. [FAA via Engadget]
Top image via Amazon