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Amazon drone delivery
An Amazon delivery drone descends toward its target during a test run in England. (Amazon via YouTube)

The Federal Aviation Administration today followed up on a White House mandate to speed progress toward drone deliveries by laying out a streamlined plan for approving more advanced operations.

Many of those operational features — such as flying beyond a drone operator’s visual line of sight, night flights and flying over people — are considered crucial for the drone delivery schemes being tested by Amazon as well as Google’s parent company and other ventures.

In the U.S., such flights are currently being done under limited conditions, typically over sites that the FAA has cleared for testing unmanned aerial systems, or UAS.

The FAA’s newly announced UAS Integration Pilot Program gives the key role to state, local and tribal governments. They would take lead responsibility for monitoring drone experiments, and serve as the primary points of contact with the FAA from start to finish.

Amazon and other private entities could partner with those governmental lead applicants after registering with the FAA as “interested parties.” The FAA says those who want to register as a lead applicant or an interested party should send an email to the agency in accordance with online instructions.

“This is truly an important milestone in aviation innovation,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said today during a briefing on the application process. She said “these partnerships will allow local communities to experiment with new technologies like package delivery, emergency drone inspections and so much more, on terms that work for them and in ways that support a unified and safe airspace.”

Would-be participants have a limited time to sign up for the initial go-round: The procedure gives lead applicants 20 days to submit a notice of intent, and there’ll be additional deadlines for providing information to the FAA.

Interested parties will have 35 days to let the FAA know they want to team up with lead applicants. The FAA says it’ll publish a list of those interested parties, but it’ll be up to the applicants to form up their teams.

“After receiving all the applications, we’ll select at least five communities to participate in the program,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said. “Each jurisdiction will be responsible for collecting usage, safety and community feedback data. We’ll use this information to help guide our drone integration efforts on a forward basis.”

The first batch of lead applicants would enter into a memorandum of agreement with the FAA within 180 days.

When President Donald Trump issued a memorandum last week to jump-start the change in procedures, Amazon signaled that it was definitely an interested party.

“Amazon supports the administration’s efforts to create a pilot program aimed at keeping America at the forefront of aviation and drone innovation,” Gur Kimchi, vice president of Amazon Prime Air, said in a statement emailed to GeekWire. “At Amazon Prime Air, we’re focused on getting packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using the latest drone technology, and we look forward to working with the administration, states and municipalities to make this a reality.”

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