Thursday, July 10, 2014

Amazon Seeks Federal Aviation Administration Permission to Test its Drones Outdoors Inc., which wants to deliver packages by drone once U.S. law allows, asked aviation regulators for permission to expand testing of prototypes outside its research laboratory.

“We are rapidly experimenting and iterating on Prime Air inside our next generation research and development lab in Seattle,” the company said in a letter posted on a government website today. Amazon is based in the city.

The company wants to deliver packages weighing less than 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms) with unmanned aircraft capable of reaching speeds of more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) an hour, it said.

Amazon says 86 percent of its deliveries are light enough to be made by its proposed drones, allowing for faster service to customers. The Federal Aviation Administration, which has banned most commercial drone operations until it crafts rules for them, at least initially doesn’t plan to allow the kind of automated flight paths envisioned by Amazon, according to a plan it unveiled last year.

So far, Amazon has been able to test its aircraft only inside its lab or in other countries, it said.

“Of course, Amazon would prefer to keep the focus, jobs, and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States by conducting private research and development operations outdoors near Seattle,” it said in the letter signed by Paul Misener, vice president for global public policy.

Drone Photography

The letter was sent in response to a June 25 request by the FAA for comments on whether it should grant exemptions allowing commercial drone flights before it completes regulations allowing them. The notice was prompted by requests from seven photo and video production companies, according to the FAA.

The FAA was given authority to grant exemptions under a 2012 law that also required the agency to begin integrating unmanned aircraft into U.S. airways by next year.

Amazon said its team of “world-renowned roboticists, scientists, aeronautical engineers, remote sensing experts, and a former NASA astronaut” have created eighth- and ninth-generation versions of delivery drones.

Allowing the flights are in the public interest because it will advance drone capabilities, the company said. It also plans to use one or more of the six test sites that the FAA has approved for unmanned flight and to seek a more formal “airworthiness certificate” for its aircraft, it said.

‘Stronger Safety’

“Further, granting this request will do nothing more than allow Amazon to do what thousands of hobbyists and manufacturers of model aircraft do every day, and we will abide by much stronger safety measures than currently required for these groups by FAA policies and regulations,” it said.

The FAA has struggled to police drone flights as small aircraft become available for less than $1,000. They have been flown by real estate agents, TV production crews and a beer company.

The agency issued a notice June 23 clarifying what it considers to be legal flights by drone hobbyists, which are permitted under current rules. Hobby flights should be away from crowds and kept within sight of the pilot on the ground, the agency said.

The FAA’s first attempt to fine a drone pilot was overturned March 6 by a judge who said the agency didn’t have authority over small unmanned aircraft. The FAA appealed the decision.

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