Amazon formally requested the Federal Aviation Administration’s permission to test delivery drones for its proposed Amazon Prime Air service. Amazon stated in its request that it is now on its eighth and ninth-generation delivery drone prototypes, some of which can travel more than 50 miles per hour with five pound packages, covering 86% of products that Amazon sells. Amazon seeks an exception from the FAA’s ban of commercial drones so that it can test these unmanned craft near Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle rather than overseas or at one of the six FAA-approved test sites in other states. Amazon stated that it “would prefer to keep the focus, jobs, and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States.” So far, the FAA has only approved two commercial drones, both in Alaska.
The approval process for commercial drones is similar to commercial manned aircraft, and it includes an airworthiness certification for each craft. But, there is hope for Amazon in a law Congress passed in 2012 which gave the FAA authority to grant expedited exemptions for unmanned craft. Originally these exemptions were only planned for filmmaking, agriculture, and inspection of infrastructure and energy plans. But Amazon hopes that its proposal to limit its use of drones for R&D in “a confined area over isolated Amazon private property,” will persuade the FAA to grant an exemption. In effect, Amazon wants to “do nothing more than what thousands of hobbyists and manufacturers of model aircraft do every day.” Industry sources indicate that Amazon is serious about drone deliveries. They are actively recruiting for at least six positions focused on developing Prime Air.