Amazon.com has asked the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration permission to test drones outdoors for use in its Prime Air package delivery service.
In the run-up to launching the service, which aims to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less, the online retailer is developing aerial vehicles that travel over 50 miles per hour, and will carry 5-pound payloads, which account for 86 percent of the products sold on Amazon.
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U.S. regulations currently allow non-commercial, hobbyist uses of model aircraft under certain conditions, but the FAA has been exploring giving exemptions to seven aerial photo and video production companies for filming movies, ahead of finalizing rules for the integration of commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace.
Amazon has been currently experimenting with Prime Air inside its research and development lab in Seattle, the company said in its exemption application to the FAA. As it is a commercial enterprise, it has been limited to conducting test flights indoors or in other countries, it said. The company said it would prefer to keep the focus, jobs, and investment for the program in the United States.
The retailer said that granting its request for exemption would do no more than allow Amazon to do what thousands of hobbyists and manufacturers of model aircraft already do every day. It said it will abide by much stronger safety measures than currently required for these groups by FAA policies and regulations.
The FAA last month interpreted existing rules under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 to prohibit hobbyists' model aircraft from flying within 5 miles of an airport without clearance from the airport or ground control.
Model aircraft hobbyists have to ensure that the aircraft is visible to the operator at all times without viewing aids like binoculars, and is not used for commercial purposes, the FAA said. The aircraft should also not weigh more than 55 pounds, including the weight of the payload and fuel, unless it's certified by an aeromodeling community-based organization
The drones to be tested outdoors by Amazon will have a maximum weight of less than 55 pounds and will be rotorpowered using a battery source. Amazon said it will conduct its operations in a confined area over isolated Amazon private property, which is located at a sufficient distance away from airports and other locations with aviation activities, densely populated areas, and military or government installations or airfields.
Amazon said last year that the launch of its Prime Air service, powered by drones, would depend on rules for civilian unmanned aircraft from the FAA, which it expects by 2015. The FAA is required by U.S. Congress to frame a "safe integration" plan for the commercial use of UAS by Sept. 30, 2015.