FAA Places Restrictions on Amazon Drones

DN Staff

March 23, 2015

2 Min Read
FAA Places Restrictions on Amazon Drones

So how big a breakthrough was it for Amazon to receive on March 19 an "experimental airworthiness certificate" from the Federal Aviation Administration?

Actually, not so much.

Amazon's certificate allows experiments with new drone designs for R&D and crew training, but not for commercial purposes. An "airworthiness certificate" is fundamentally different from the "exemptions" some drone operators have gotten from the FAA, under what's called Section 333. Those with exemptions under Section 333 can perform commercial operations in low-risk, controlled environments.


Hollywood studios, photographers working for realtors, companies who do aerial inspections of plant and railroad infrastructure, or mapping and precision agriculture operations, have received FAA authorization -- case-by-case -- for certain unmanned aircraft to perform commercial operations. As of March 13, 48 petitions have been granted, according to the FAA.

Amazon's FAA approval is far more restrictive. Obviously, it wasn't the company's first choice, either. Critics have described an experimental airworthiness certificate as "the same document required for a private, non-commercial plane owner to fly a Cessna."

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Nevertheless, the approval was still a small win for Amazon. The company is free to test drones outdoors. It has been testing drones indoors near its headquarters in Seattle, and it has begun outdoor tests outside the US.

The experimental airworthiness certificate, however, also comes with plenty of red tape. Under its provisions, "all flight operations must be conducted at 400 feet or below during daylight hours in visual meteorological conditions," according to the FAA.

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The FAA is also sticking to the agency's current rules requiring visual line-of-sight operations and a pilot certification. "The pilot actually flying the aircraft must have at least a private pilot's certificate and current medical certification," said the FAA.

Amazon is further required to provide monthly data to the FAA. The company must report the number of flights conducted, pilot duty time per flight, unusual hardware or software malfunctions, any deviations from air traffic controllers' instructions, and any unintended loss of communication links. The FAA includes these reporting requirements in all UAS experimental airworthiness certificates.

What do you think of the FAA guidelines placed on Amazon? Too strict? Not strict enough? Sound off in the comments section below.

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