E-commerce giant Amazon has won approval by US federal regulators to start outdoor trials of the firm’s package delivery drones.
The Federal Aviation Administration said on Thursday it has issued an experimental airworthiness certificate to an Amazon business unit and its prototype drone, allowing test flights over private, rural land in the state of Washington.
The approval will allow Amazon for the first time to test its technology outdors in the US, as the country’s aviation regulations prohibit flying drones for commercial purposes.
The permission, which only applies to one type of aircraft, is a major milestone for Amazon’s plans to offer a drone delivery service dubbed the Amazon Prime.
The FAA, however, requires the experimental aircraft to keep below 120 metres of altitude and keep within the line of sight of the operator.
Amazon originally requested a permission to fly to up to 150m above the Earth’s surface.
The operators piloting the test drone will need to have a private pilot licence and valid medical certifications.
Throughout the trial, Amazon will be obliged to supply monthly data to the regulators. If it wants to modify the aircraft or fly a different version, it will have to apply for a new licence.
Amazon’s drones, under development at the company’s facility in Seattle, are capable of flying at speeds of up to 80km/h. The aircraft are equipped with obstacle avoidance systems allowing them to operate autonomously. Amazon is currently co-operating with Nasa on development of an air-traffic management system for drones.
Amazon’s head of public policy, Paul Misener, is expected to testify at a congressional hearing on drones next Tuesday.
In February, the FAA released draft rules for the use of drones in the US. There is a growing interest in the technology from various private entities including news gatherers, delivery firms as well as farmers and operators of power networks and oil pipelines.
The draft rules still must undergo public comment and revision before becoming final, which is expected to take at least a year.