Amazon drones get FAA test approval (but don't get excited)

Amazon has been granted special permission to test its drone delivery service, but while the FAA may have given PrimeAir trials the green-light, don't expect it at your front door any time soon. PrimeAir was announced in late 2013, Amazon's grand scheme to deliver smaller packages by remotely-controlled drone within thirty minutes of an order being placed, but in addition to doubts around whether the project was practical, the Federal Aviation Administration took a dim view of commercial UAV use. Now, the leash has been loosened a little, allowing Amazon to at least begin conducting feasibility trials.

The so-called experimental airworthiness certificate, granted to Amazon Logistics, Inc., comes with a long list of provisos and rules that the retailer must abide by. That includes the drone going no higher than 400 feet, and only being operated within line of sight.

As for the person at the controls, while they'll be safely on the ground at all times, they still need to hold a valid pilot's license.

"Under the provisions of the certificate, all flight operations must be conducted at 400 feet or below during daylight hours in visual meteorological conditions. The UAS must always remain within visual line-of-sight of the pilot and observer. The pilot actually flying the aircraft must have at least a private pilot's certificate and current medical certification" FAA

Meanwhile, Amazon will be required to submit monthly reports to the FAA on how its testing continues. That data will have to include how many flights are undertaken and how long each pilot is active for, in addition to details around any malfunctions of hardware or software, or failed communications links.

Although relatively draconian, the news is nonetheless likely to be positively received by Amazon, which was pushing the FAA hard to allow more in-depth testing.

As of July last year, the company was already onto its ninth generation of PrimeAir UAV design, good for a 50 mph top-speed and able to carry packages up to five pounds in weight.

"One day," the company argued in its petition to the FAA, "seeing Amazon PrimeAir will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today."