Following the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) recent Federal Register notice on its interpretation of the statutory special rules for model aircraft, Amazon has sent a letter to the agency for permission to go forward with plans to test unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for package delivery.
In the notice, the FAA reaffirmed that UAVs can be used only for hobby or recreational – not commercial – purposes. There was then a media frenzy of claims that the FAA had essentially struck down Amazon’s plans; however, the online retail giant is not giving up.
In early December 2013, Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, appeared on 60 Minutes and first revealed the delivery-by-drone initiative. In April, in his annual letter to company shareholders, Bezos said the team for the delivery service – dubbed Prime Air – was testing its fifth- and sixth-generation UAVs and was in the process of designing generations seven and eight.
Now, Paul Misener, vice president of global public policy for Amazon, has addressed a letter to Michael P. Huerta, administrator of the FAA. In the letter, he writes that the UAV delivery system is something the company is “incredibly passionate about.”
He explains that in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, the FAA was directed by Congress “to safely accelerate the integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system.” Section 333 then gave the agency authorization to give “expedited operational authorization” to those who can do so. Therefore, Misener writes, the FAA should exercise that right with Amazon to allow for research and development with Prime Air.
The letter explains that in the past few months, the company has made several advancements in developing UAVs, including vehicles than can fly over 50 mph and carry five pounds – which constitutes 86% of the items sold. In addition, it has gained several new team members, including roboticists, scientists and even a former NASA astronaut.
Amazon also notes in the letter that because it is a commercial business, it is not allowed to conduct test flights outdoors or in other countries, as opposed to hobbyists or UAV makers, who are not restricted to the indoors. It is now asking for an exemption to the rule, as it is “in the public interest” for advancing small UAV operations in the country.
Last month, Amazon brought on law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld to lobby for ‘federal advocacy’ of the use of UAVs and for the Marketplace Fairness Act, a potential bill dealing with the collection of sales tax.
“One day, seeing Amazon Prime Air will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today, resulting in enormous benefits for consumers across the nation. We respectfully submit this petition for exemption so that Prime Air can be ready,” the letter states.