Amazon Warns What Could Happen Without FAA Action

Without Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval to move forward with its plans for deliveries by unmanned aerial system (UAS), Amazon will have ‘no choice’ but to continue testing outside the U.S., the online retail giant explains in a letter to the agency.

Paul Misener, the vice president of global public policy for, wrote a letter to James H. Williams, manager of the UAS Integration Office at the FAA, to provide the agency’s requested “additional information to supplement” the company’s petition for Section 333 exemption to test its UAS outdoors.

The Amazon Prime Air delivery system – first introduced by CEO Jeff Bezos last December – “will get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using small unmanned aerial vehicles,” Misener writes. He explains that the company seeks to “pursue fast-paced innovation in the United States, which would include the creation of high-quality jobs and significant investment in the local community.”

The company has been restricted to indoor testing due to “the absence of timely approval by the FAA to conduct outdoor testing,” the letter explains. Therefore, it has taken research and development outside the U.S. in order to test the aircraft outdoors.

In the July 9 petition to the FAA, Amazon asked “to test on private property in a rural area of Washington State, away from people or crowds.” It also noted that it would perform operations “under the supervision of trained pilots, at low altitudes, below 400 feet above ground level, within visual line of sight, employing a ‘geofencing’ technology that will keep the vehicle confined to the test area.”

Amazon says that these measures “are much stronger than those currently required for hobbyists and manufacturers of model aircraft, who already do every day what Amazon is proposing.”

Testing outside, Misener says, “is 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.”

According to the letter, the FAA had asked Amazon to elaborate on “why granting [the] request would be in the public interest.” Misener says he “fear[s] the FAA may be questioning the fundamental benefits of keeping UAS technology innovation in the United States.”

“Simply put,” he says, “Prime Air has great potential to enhance the services we already provide to millions of our customers by providing rapid parcel delivery that will also increase the overall safety and efficiency of the transportation system.” He also notes that aerial delivery is potentially more “environmentally friendly than current surface delivery methods.”

“Without the ability to test in the United States soon,” Misener writes, “we will have no choice but to divert even more of our UAS research and development resources abroad.”

Amazon’s full letter to the FAA can be found here.


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