The Washington Post

It was illegal for Amazon to shoot that drone video in the U.S., so it went abroad


When Jeffrey P. Bezos revealed to CBS's Charlie Rose that was planning for a fleet of whirring octocopters to deliver everyone's next iPhone case, the video that went along with it showed a prototype drone rising lazily off the ground and floating across green, open fields to reach its destination. It could've been anywhere — sunny California, maybe, or somewhere near Seattle. But it was actually neither of those places. Turns out it wasn't even in the United States.

Spokespeople for Amazon and the Federal Aviation Administration have confirmed that the company chose an international location for its concept video after FAA restrictions prevented them from shooting here. Exactly which lucky country got a cameo is still a mystery; neither official would talk specifics.

Drone policy watchers say Canada would have been an attractive option — it's not far from Amazon's home base, Seattle, and the rules governing unmanned aircraft are a little more relaxed there.

"I can also imagine maybe a small eastern European country being a good candidate," says Timothy Reuter, who heads the DC Area Drone User Group.

The fact that Amazon had to leave the country to make the video underscores how slowly U.S. officials have embraced the policy challenge. It also offers a concrete example of what the country stands to lose, as the market for civil drone use picks up globally. They've been criticized before for lagging on their new set of drone guidelines; it won't be until 2015 that the FAA finally integrates small drones into the national airspace, with full-on commercial drones getting addressed sometime later, according to a governmental plan released last month. The current regime makes exceptions for hobbyists and those who receive a special certificate from the FAA.

Sometime before the end of the month, the agency is expected to announce a number of test sites it'll use to assess the impact of unmanned vehicles on safety and security.

Disclosure: Jeffrey P. Bezos, founder and chief executive of, owns The Washington Post.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post, focusing on telecommunications and the Internet. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.
Show Comments

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.