July 11, 2014, 12:11 PM

Amazon petitions the FAA to test delivery drones

Amazon wants the ability to test drone delivery outside so the retailer can launch its Amazon Prime Air service as soon as it’s legally allowed to.

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Amazon.com Inc. doesn’t want to wait any longer for the Federal Aviation Administration to approve the commercial use of drones—small, unmanned aircraft.

The e-retailer, the perennial leader of the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, submitted a letter to the FAA Wednesday asking the FAA to grant Amazon “expedited operational authorization” to test the use of drones for commercial purposes. The letter was signed by Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global public policy.

Amazon wants to be able to test its drones outside; it has been running tests with the small aircraft inside its  research and development lab in Seattle. Congress, in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, told the FAA to integrate unmanned aircraft systems into the national airway by 2015 and gave them the right to authorize drone use.

Amazon says it has been able, over the past five months, to develop eighth- and ninth-generation drones that can travel more than 50 miles per hour and carry packages up to five pounds. Amazon says that weight limit covers more than 86% of products sold on Amazon.com. Amazon’s testing has been limited to indoor locations and locations outside of the United States. “Of course, Amazon would prefer to keep the focus, jobs, and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States by conducting private research and development operations outdoors near Seattle,” the company says in the letter.

The letter was in response to an FAA request for comments on granting exemptions for commercial drone flights before its regulations are complete. The FAA said the request was in response to requests from photo and video production companies.

Amazon plans to use the drones for its Amazon Prime Air service, which Amazon says will deliver packages to consumers in 30 minutes or less. Amazon announced plans for the service in late 2013. In a letter to shareholders in April, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said the company was testing the fifth and sixth generation of drones, with the design of the seventh and eighth in progress.

When Amazon first announced its plans for drones in late 2013, the FAA said completing rules and regulations for the commercial use of unmanned aircraft would likely take several years. Hobbyists are allowed to fly drones as long as safety regulations are met. Amazon did not immediately respond today to a request for more details about the letter.

Despite the lengthy regulatory outlook, Amazon remains confident in the future of its drone delivery service: “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,” the letter says.

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