In December 2013, Amazon announced plans for a drone delivery service.
“It looks like science fiction, but it’s real,” the company suggested. “One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road.”
But permission to conduct outside tests took more than six months to be granted. This was due to the congestion of US airspace, according to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Paul Misener, Amazon VP for global public policy, said: “We innovated so rapidly that the [drone] approved by the FAA has become obsolete. We don’t test it anymore. We’ve moved on to more advanced designs that we already are testing abroad.”
In July, Amazon petitioned US regulators asking for an exemption from controls: “The company’s energy comes from inventing on behalf of our customers. We believe customers will love [Prime Air] and we are committed to making [the service] available to customers worldwide as soon as we are permitted to do so,” it said.
“Amazon also shares Congress’s goal of getting small aerial vehicles flying commercially in the US safely and soon. Granting Amazon an exemption to allow R&D testing outdoors in is in the public interest because it advances Congress’s goal of getting commercial [small Unmanned Aircraft System] flying.”
Misener also told the Senate Subcommittee on aviation operations, safety and security: “Nowhere outside of the US have we been required to wait more than one or two months to begin testing.”
Although the FAA are now reviewing its rules on drones, Misener isn’t keen on waiting for too long. In a letter, he said: “Without approval of our testing in the US, we will be forced to continue expanding our Prime Air R&D footprint abroad.”
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The use of such technology is already being tested for commercial purposes in the UK.
During a press conference for driverless cars, transport minister Robert Goodwill confirmed the government’s role in embracing technology.
“I had some people from Amazon coming to see me the other day; they want to replace van deliveries with drone deliveries, and they can’t do any trials in the US because they’re over-regulated,” he said.
“So my favourite word is deregulation, and we need to make sure that wherever you are in the world, and if you want to innovate and you want to invest in this sort of technology, come to the UK because we’re here to help you.
“We’re working with Amazon and government is working on the whole issue of drones. We’re meeting with the British Airline Pilots Association and we’re both keen to innovate.”
He added that legislative issues around drones were confusing: “If I’m selling my house I can use a drone to take an aerial photograph and give it to an estate agent to use but he cannot take his own one using a drone and use that.”
Goodwill concluded: “We will undertake a public dialogue about the operation of drones later this year.”
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