US greenlights corporate drone use

Federal regulators have given Amazon a green light to begin testing drones, but it will most likely take years before the online retailer can start delivering packages from the air to peoples’ homes.
The Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday gave Amazon permission to conduct test flights of its drones outdoors, as long as the company obeys a host of rules like flying below 400 feet and only during daylight hours.
In a sign of how far Amazon has to go before its vision for its drone-delivery service is realized, the company’s drones for now will have to be operated by a pilot with a certificate to fly a private manned aircraft. Amazon has envisioned its drone- delivery service, which it calls Amazon Prime Air, to be autonomous, consisting of buzzing fleets of miniature helicopters soaring far beyond the view of Amazon warehouses.
While the F.A.A. has announced plans to allow more commercial uses of manned drones in American skies, it has not said when it will permit the use of autonomous drones by companies like Amazon. The agency’s main concern is making sure that drones, which everyone from farmers to cinematographers have shown interest in using for business purposes, can be operated safely.
Still, even getting permission to test drones outdoors with a pilot counts as progress for Amazon, which has been lobbying the F.A.A. for approval to do so for months. The company has previously been forced to test drones indoors near its headquarters in Seattle. It has also started outdoor tests outside the United States and has warned federal regulators that jobs and investment dollars will leave the country if they do not relax their current drone restrictions.
Now Amazon will be able to test drones in the skies over a piece of private property, which it has previously disclosed is somewhere in rural Washington State. The type of approval the F.A.A. granted Amazon wasn’t the company’s first
choice. Called an experimental airworthiness certificate, it is normally granted to aerospace companies like Boeing and others that are conducting research and development on new drone technologies.
In a letter to the F.A.A. last December, Paul Misener, the vice president for global public policy at Amazon, said the company had applied for the experimental certificate at the suggestion of the F.A.A., but complained of restrictions that would prevent it from rapidly experimenting.
Amazon has also requested a different type of approval from the F.A.A. that
would give it more flexibility in its drone tests, it said. The F.A.A. has granted similar
approvals for Hollywood film studios and other groups that want to use drones in
their work.

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