Amazon asks FAA to allow Prime Air drone test flights

amazonprimeairAmazon has filed a petition with the FAA asking the agency to allow expanded testing of the company’s Prime Air drones.

According to the petition, which was first reported on by CNET, Amazon has been working on improving its drones by flying them indoors in Seattle, and taking them out to other countries with more relaxed rules about where and when businesses can fly drones.

Amazon's "Delivery Drone."

Amazon’s “Delivery Drone’ in action.

However, the company can’t fly them outdoors in the U.S. because of FAA regulations that prohibit commercial use of drones. In the petition, the company asked for permission to test the drones on its own property, away from densely-populated areas, airports and military installations.

The company says it just wants to engage in the sort of outdoor flight testing that it would be able to do in the U.S. if it were a drone manufacturer or a hobbyist. However, unlike those groups, Amazon says it would abide by more stringent safety regulations than the ones currently imposed on those groups.

Amazon also implied in the request that if the FAA doesn’t give it permission to test the drones outdoors at its research and development lab “near Seattle,” the company may choose to move the team working on Prime Air to a country that’s more hospitable to drone testing. Amazon already shot its promotional video for Prime Air outside the U.S., so it’s no stranger to working on drones abroad.

The request also gives a rare glimpse into the capabilities Amazon is packing into its current generation of drones. The company said that the craft weigh less than 55 pounds, can carry payloads that weigh up to 5 pounds, and can travel at a speed of up to 50 miles an hour.

Amazon is also innovating at a swift clip: Jeff Bezos said in his letter to shareholders in April that the company was flight testing its fifth and sixth generation of drones, the petition says that it’s currently testing the eighth and ninth generation of its aircraft.

Jeff Bezos unveiled the program on 60 Minutes last year, and Amazon still says on its Prime Air site that it hopes the FAA’s new rules will be in place as early as 2015. That appears optimistic. Right now, the FAA is moving slowly on easing commercial drone regulations, and it has been perfectly happy to sue companies and individuals that it sees breaking the rules.

For now, Amazon’s flying robots are grounded, unless the FAA decides to grant the company the exception that it wants.

Amazon’s request is embedded below.