Amazon Conducts Drone Testing in Canada While U.S. Laws Move Slowly

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2015-03-30 Print this article Print
drones, Amazon, package delivery

The EAC issued by the FAA recently permits Amazon's Logistics division to experiment with unmanned aircraft systems that Amazon will use for research and development and crew training, according to the FAA. The EAC sets rules for the drone experiments, including provisions that all flight operations must be conducted at 400 feet or below during daylight hours in good weather and that the drones must always remain within visual line-of-sight of the pilot and observer. In addition, the drone experiments under the certificate must be flown by a pilot who has a minimum of a private pilot's certificate and current medical certification, the FAA stated.

The FAA is currently accepting public comments through April 24 on new rules it proposed back in February that would regulate such unmanned aircraft systems, including drones that are proposed for use by Amazon. The public comment period opened on Feb. 23. The 48 companies that have been granted permission for experiments by the FAA so far have received exemptions to begin their studies before the proposed new FAA rules are in place for UAS devices. 

So far, it is still early in the FAA's process to propose, review and finalize rules in the controversial area of drones. Critics of drones cite concerns about privacy, potential interference with commercial and private air traffic, terrorism worries and more, while supporters argue that drones could open new avenues of commerce, logistics and potential services that have not yet even been identified.

Back in December 2013, Amazon said it had begun working on a drone-based delivery system that it hoped to use in the next few years to deliver packages to customers' doorsteps in 30 minutes or less, according to an earlier eWEEK report. At the time, Amazon said those future deliveries could be made using what it called a "Prime Air Octocopter," which had four thin metal legs and eight small, horizontally spinning helicopter blades that made it look like a large robotic stink bug. The drone was about the size of a medium-size dog and grabbed and carried its package off to its destination, according to the company's description at the time.

Amazon predicted back then that it would be ready to set its Octocopters in flight by 2015, but it is still waiting for the FAA to create and finalize the rules that could one day enable such delivery methods.


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