Amazon.com Inc. formally requested permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to start testing drones, an important step toward the online retail giant’s goal to use the devices to deliver packages.
Amazon first unveiled the plans in December, dubbing the proposed service Amazon Prime Air and saying drones would eventually be able to deliver small packages to customers in less than 30 minutes. In its petition to the FAA, posted Thursday, Amazon said it is now on its eighth- and ninth-generation drone prototypes, including some that can travel more than 50 miles an hour and carry 5-pound packages, which would cover 86% of products it sells.
Amazon Prime Air “is one invention we are incredibly passionate about,” Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global public policy, said in the request. “We believe customers will love it, and we are committed to making Prime Air available to customers world-wide as soon as we are permitted to do so.”
He added, “One day, seeing Amazon Prime Air will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today.”
So far, Amazon said, its team of roboticists, scientists, aeronautical engineers and a former astronaut has been testing its drones indoors or in other countries because of the FAA’s rules.
“Amazon would prefer to keep the focus, jobs, and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States,” Mr. Misener wrote.
The FAA allows the recreational use of drones but prohibits their commercial use without its approval. The agency has approved just two commercial drones, both in Alaska. The approval process is modeled on that for commercial manned aircraft, meaning it is lengthy, complex and expensive, and can include a requirement for an airworthiness certification of the aircraft.
However, in a 2012 law, Congress gave the FAA the authority to grant expedited exemptions for some unmanned aircraft. Earlier this year, the agency began accepting exemption applications for “specific limited, low-risk uses” of drones, Jim Williams, head of the FAA’s unmanned-aircraft office, said at a drone conference in May. Mr. Williams said then that the agency was only considering exemptions for drones used for filmmaking, agriculture and inspections of infrastructure and energy plants.
In its request, Amazon says that it would limit its use of drones to “a confined area over isolated Amazon private property,” away from airports, densely populated areas and military installations. The company argues that granting its request will allow it to “do nothing more than what thousands of hobbyists and manufacturers of model aircraft do every day,” a common argument of commercial-drone advocates.
There is other evidence that Amazon is serious about drone deliveries. The company has at least six jobs posted on its careers website that are focused on developing Prime Air, including a project manager, a spokesman, a software engineer and a patent lawyer. All the jobs are in Seattle, except the software engineer, which is in San Francisco. In some of the job descriptions, the company says, “You will work hard, have fun, and of course, make history!”
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com