Amazon wants an exemption from the FAA’s drone restrictions


(Amazon.com)

Remember how Amazon wants to deliver its packages to you by drone in 30 minutes or less? And remember the federal government's objections to letting those and other commercial drones fly in U.S. airspace?

Well, Amazon is hoping to get around those. So it's filed a petition with the Federal Aviation Administration asking for an exemption.

In a filing to the agency this week, Amazon says that it's made tremendous strides with its drone technology. It's now working on eighth- and ninth-generation copter designs, just three months after the company's chief executive, Jeff Bezos, told shareholders Amazon was drawing up plans for its seventh-gen drone. (Bezos is also the owner of The Washington Post.)

Other details appear in the filing that the company hasn't disclosed before: Its drones are capable of flying at 50 miles per hour, for instance. And the team working on them contains "world‐renowned roboticists, scientists, aeronautical engineers, remote sensing experts and a former NASA astronaut."

But the bulk of the filing is devoted to Amazon's main purpose, which is two-fold: To get permission from the FAA to put its drones in the air, and to be able to test them at its own research facilities in Washington state rather than having to visit one of the six test sites that the agency approved late last year. Amazon says it's willing to take extra safety precautions, such as flying no higher than 400 feet above ground level, keeping the drone within visual range and readying a "physical button" that can cut power to the machine if something goes wrong.

"We’re continuing to work with the FAA to meet Congress’s goal of getting drones flying commercially in America safely and soon," said Paul Misener, Amazon's vice president of global public policy. "We want to do more R&D close to home."

Testing the drones right where they're designed would save the company time — while conveniently shielding the machines from public view.

Amazon's petition comes a week after the Motion Picture Association of America made its own request to the FAA for a special pass, and a month before the agency is supposed to publish new rules allowing lightweight commercial drones into U.S. airspace. Few expect the FAA to meet the deadline. The agency's sluggishness to develop regulations has raised questions about whether the United States is lagging behind in the civil and commercial drone industries. Other countries where drone policy isn't as strict have seen a surge of economic activity surrounding the technology.

Amazon's filing to the FAA alludes to the international draw.

"Because Amazon is a commercial enterprise we have been limited to conducting R&D flights indoors or in other countries," the proposal reads. "Of course, Amazon would prefer to keep the focus, jobs and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States."

If the petition is rejected, well… draw your own conclusions.

 

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Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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