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Amazon fires rocket up FAA for dithering on drone approval

El Reg knows how Bezos feels

By Iain Thomson, 25 Mar 2015

Amazon has been complaining to US Congress about Uncle Sam's Federal Aviation Authority dragging its feet over rules that would allow commercial drones to operate in America's skies.

Last week the FAA gave Amazon permission to carry out drone test flights, which the cloud giant hopes to use for ferrying small packages for its proposed Air Prime delivery service. But Amazon says the approval arrived too late, since its testing has progressed so far that the hardware the FAA cleared for takeoff is now outdated.

"We innovated so rapidly that the UAS [Unmanned Aircraft Systems] approved last week by the FAA has become obsolete. We don’t test it anymore," Paul Misener, Amazon's vice president for global public policy, told the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security.

"We’ve moved on to more advanced designs that we already are testing abroad. Last Friday, we asked the FAA for permission to fly one of these advanced unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in the United States, as well, and we are hopeful that this permission will be granted quickly."

Misener said that when it comes to regulating UAS flights, the US is lagging far behind the rest of the world. While no country has yet got rules in place to allow commercial drone flights for services like Amazon Prime Air, the EU and other governments are a lot more open to testing drones.

"The permission the FAA granted is more restrictive than are the rules and approvals by which we conduct outdoor testing in the UK and elsewhere. It’s even more limited than the rules applicable to non-commercial, amateur UAS fliers in the United States," he said.

"Moreover, obtaining permission took far too long, and certainly much longer – over half a year – than it took in other countries."

The Register can sympathize – our Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) spaceplane has been sitting restless in an American warehouse while we wait for the FAA to decide whether or not it is a drone, and whether or not it can be allowed to fly. Given that internet giant Amazon is having trouble, this could take some time.

According to Misener, this could be because the FAA doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in drones. He claimed that the industry advisory committee considering the issue has only met twice in the past year.

"The fact is that, with few exceptions, the agency already has adequate statutory authority. What the FAA needs is impetus, lest the United States fall further behind," he concluded. ®

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