The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved a request from Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) to allow the company’s Amazon Prime Air drones to operate beyond a controller’s visual line of sight. The ruling exempts Prime Air from meeting certain requirements while the company continues development of its drone delivery program.
Last year, Amazon introduced its MK27 unmanned aircraft (MK27 UA) and associated unmanned aircraft systems (MK27 UAS) capable of carrying a 5-pound payload and flying for up to 15 miles. In July, FAA officials observed nine demonstration flights of the MK27 that validated system performance. Among the demonstrations was “effective execution of the Flight Termination System remote abort feature,” according to a report from paxex.aero.
Amazon Prime Air vice-president David Carbon said in a statement that the FAA certification was an “important step forward” and that indicates the agency’s “confidence” in Prime Air’s drone delivery service and raises the company’s hopes of realizing “our vision of 30-minute delivery.”
In its approval notice, the FAA said, “this exemption from the requirement[s] … that an aircraft conducting operations in accordance with part 135 [must] hold an appropriate airworthiness certificate.” Part 135 certification (or this exemption) is required in order for a Prime Air to be designated an “air carrier” under FAA rules.
As Amazon continues to develop the drone program it is expected to complete the process of obtaining Part 135 certification in order to conduct commercial, non-scheduled flights.
During the development period, the FAA spelled out 28 conditions and limitations on the exemption granted to Amazon. Among these are no night flights, installation of an anti-collision light that must be visible for at least three miles between sunset and sunrise, and the MK27 cannot operate at an altitude of more than 400 feet above the ground. Operations also are currently limited to sparsely populated areas.
Amazon now joins the Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOGL)-led Wing subsidiary and United Parcel Service Inc. (NYSE: UPS) as FAA-approved drone operators. Wing includes Walgreens Boot Alliance Inc. (NASDAQ: WBA) and FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX) as partners.
The FAA is expected by the end of the year to have finalized a regulatory framework to allow drone flights over crowds. Even that is just one more step in what is likely to be a process that takes years to bear fruit.