Amazon.com’s effort to expand its research into the viability of delivery drones got a boost from U.S. regulators who granted the company permission to conduct test flights.
Amazon had written to the Federal Aviation Administration in December threatening to divert its research program to other countries if the agency didn’t act quickly to approve outdoor test flights of the unmanned aircraft. The FAA on Thursday said Amazon can fly its drones only during the day, within 400 feet of the ground and within sight of an operator who has a traditional pilot’s license.
It’s not clear when or whether the FAA will create blanket rules for allowing the kind of autonomous drone flights envisioned by Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos. The Seattle-based company has said it wants to be able to program the unmanned aircraft to make the flights on its own while dodging obstacles.
Amazon didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The FAA granted Amazon what is known as an experimental airworthiness certificate for its drone design, which is broader than the waivers given to at least 44 other companies for commercial drone flights. By approving the aircraft’s design, the FAA can allow a greater range of flights than a simple commercial waiver.
Bezos said in December 2013 that he wanted to pioneer the use of small unmanned copters to deliver books and other items to people’s homes. The goal was to deliver packages weighing as much as 5 pounds within a 10-mile radius, Bezos said.
The FAA on Feb. 15 unveiled proposed rules for commercial drone flights that wouldn’t permit such automated activity because it requires drone operators to keep their craft within sight at all times.