Everyone who thought Amazon’s (AMZN) idea to use unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less was a publicity stunt, it’s time to eat crow. AMZN filed a petition with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) this week, asking for an exemption to test drones at its R&D lab in Seattle and at FAA’s drone test sites with an eye toward taking its Prime Air service live in just four or five years.
In a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta dated Wednesday, Amazon asked the agency to grant its first “expedited operational authorization” to Amazon to conduct research and development for Prime Air drones. “We are rapidly experimenting and iterating on Prime Air inside our next-generation research and development lab in Seattle. In the past five months, we have made advancements toward the development of highly automated aerial vehicles for Prime Air,” AMZN said in its petition.
Those advancements include testing capabilities for new eighth- and ninth-generation UAVs, deploying drones that can fly 50 miles per hour and carry a five-pound payload — AMZN says 86% of its products weigh less than five pounds. In recent months, AMZN has assembled a team of “world-renowned roboticists, scientists, aeronautical engineers, remote sensing experts and a former NASA astronaut.”
While AMZN’s petition has seriously upped the ante in the coming drone wars, will that be enough to force the FAA to clear its UAV plans for takeoff? Here are three takeaways from Amazon’s bid to begin drone tests:
BP Clearance, FAA Rules Offer Mixed Messages
Amazon’s petition comes on the heels of two watershed events in drone regulation. Last month, the FAA approved the first commercial drone over U.S. land — BP’s (BP) Puma drone, manufactured by AeroVironment (AVAV), will be used to monitor oil fields in Alaska.
While it seemed likely that BP’s win would clear more commercial drones for takeoff, FAA slammed that door shut less than a week later, clarifying that existing model aircraft rules do not apply to UAVs used for a commercial purpose.