The Federal Aviation Administration just granted an experimental airworthiness certificate to one of Amazon’s delivery drone designs. However, this doesn’t make Prime Air any more realistic than it’s been up to this point.
The FAA’s certificate grants Amazon the ability to test its drones, but it’s too restrictive to allow that testing to take place in a realistic environment. The drones must always be operated within line of sight. Tests must take place during daylight hours, at 400 feet or below, during clear weather only. Also, all test operators must have a private pilot’s certificate.
Furthermore, Amazon will be required to report no small amount of data to the FAA on a monthly basis, including “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.”
Amazon has been waiting for the FAA to make a decision since last July, when it first petitioned the federal government for a Prime Air testing exemption.
With this approval, Amazon joins a mere six organizations cleared to test drones in the U.S.: the University of Alaska, the state of Nevada, Griffiss International Airport in New York, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Texas A&M University’s Corpus Christi campus, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute.
The FAA’s restrictions aren’t picking on Amazon in particular either, but continue the agency’s track record of extremely limited drone-use rules. In its February proposal for the regulation of unmanned aircrafts 55 pounds and under, the FAA required line of sight visibility and a pilot’s license as mandatory for all flights.
The agency is expected to bring this proposal to a vote later this year.
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