FAA Keeps Amazon on a Short Leash

Amazon Inc. got the green light the Federal Aviation Administration Mar. 19 to start testing their drone delivery service, Amazon Prime Air. While many drone supporters might call Amazon’s new “experimental airworthiness certificate” a victory for the commercial drone industry, others might look at what was won and see that it is not a cause for celebration.

The FAA is not giving Amazon much room to experiment. In the FAA’s announcement they detail the parameters under which Amazon’s test flights must be conducted.

Under the provisions of the certificate, all flight operations must be conducted at 400 feet or below during daylight hours in visual meteorological conditions. The UAS must always remain within visual line-of-sight of the pilot and observer. The pilot actually flying the aircraft must have at least a private pilot’s certificate and current medical certification.

In February, the FAA proposed a list of regulations for commercial drone use. Amazon executives were not happy with the suggested guidelines because they were not compatible with the company’s vision of flying drones from their warehouses to a customer’s doorstep.

A common critique of the FAA’s policy focuses on the “line-of-sight” requirement. Jason Koebler of Motherboard said it best when he pointed out that, “Visual line of sight may work for early testing, but for actual drone delivery, it’ll only work if you want to deliver something to your next door neighbor, not if you’re flying halfway across a city.”

These newest rules on how Amazon can fly its drones are even more stringent than last month’s announcement. The online retailer is limited to a 400 foot ceiling, 100 feet shorter than previous altitude limits suggested by the FAA.

The other and most surprising rule is that Amazon’s drone pilots will need a private pilot’s certificate. Previously, the FAA had proposed that commercial drone pilots have a “UAS operator certificate,” which would only requires pilots to pass an aeronautical knowledge test every two years.

The FAA also asked to see all of Amazon’s flight test data every month.  This includes flight logs, maintenance records, and malfunction reports.

Amazon has not yet commented on the certificate, according to CNN.

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