Amazon has received a Federal Aviation Administration experimental airworthiness certificate to test an unmanned aerial system design that the company will use for research and development and crew training.
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 flying the aircraft must have at least a private pilot’s certificate and current medical certification.
First announced in December 2013 by Jeff Bezos, CEO of the online retail giant, Amazon’s Prime Air delivery system initiative aims to “get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using small unmanned aerial vehicles,” wrote Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global public policy, to the FAA in December of last year.
At a March 24 Senate hearing, “Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Key Considerations Regarding Safety, Innovation, Economic Impact, and Privacy,’ Misener admitted that this newly granted experimental airworthiness certificate has now become ‘obsolete.’
While the company was waiting for an FAA authorization, he explained, Amazon ended up developing more advanced UAS and moved on from the design that it received the authorization for. Misener noted, however, that is he ‘grateful’ to the FAA for the certification.
In July, Amazon petitioned the FAA for a Section 333 exemption to test Prime Air outside – “a necessary step towards realizing the consumer benefits of Prime Air, as well as a step in unlocking the enormous potential of small UAS technology,” Misener explained in the December letter, which provided the agency’s requested “additional information to supplement” Amazon’s petition.
“Without the ability to test in the United States soon,” Misener wrote, “we will have no choice but to divert even more of our UAS research and development resources abroad.”
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) says it previously supported Amazon’s request for a Section 333 exemption and urged the agency to consider other low-risk commercial applications.
The Section 333 application is still pending.
“We hope the FAA uses any and all means to allow Amazon to test their systems domestically in a safe and responsible manner,” AUVSI wrote in its official comments to the FAA on Amazon’s request.
The FAA explains that it typically issues experimental certificates to manufacturers and technology developers to operate a UAS that does not have a type certificate. Carrying persons or property for compensation or hire is prohibited, and the process to obtain an experimental airworthiness certificate takes anywhere from two months to a year, the agency says.
This issued certificate also requires Amazon to provide monthly data to the FAA. The company must report the number of flights conducted, pilot duty time per flight, unusual hardware or software malfunctions, any deviations from air traffic controllers’ instructions and any unintended loss of communication links. The FAA includes these reporting requirements in all UAS experimental airworthiness certificates.
In light of the certificate, Brian Wynne, president and CEO of AUVSI, says in a statement, “Companies like Amazon are at the forefront of technological advances and are investing heavily in research and development. It is important to ensure that innovative uses of UAS technology, such as package delivery, take off in the U.S.
“Industry and government also need to work together to lay the groundwork for beyond-line-of-sight operations, a necessary prerequisite for package delivery and other transformational uses of UAS technology.”