Amazon has been granted an approval by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that will allow it to start trialling commercial deliveries via drone, Bloomberg reports. This certification is the same one granted to UPS and a handful of other companies, and while it doesn’t mean that Amazon can immediately start operating a consumer drone delivery service for everyone, it does allow them to make progress towards that goal.
Amazon has said it’ll kick off its own delivery tests, though it hasn’t shared any details on when and where exactly those will begin. The FAA clearance for these trials is adapted from the safety rules and regulations it imposes for companies operating a commercial airline service, with special exceptions allowing for companies to bypass the requirements that specifically deal with onboard crew and staff working the aircraft, since the drones don’t have any.
These guidelines are at best a patchwork solution designed by the agency and its commercial partners to help provide a way for them to get underway with crucial systems development and safety testing and design, but the FAA is working towards a more fit-for-purpose set of regulations to govern drone airline operation for later this year. That will mostly be related to authorizing flights over crowds – but any drone flights will still require constant human observation.
Ultimately, any actual viable and practical system of drone delivery will require fully autonomous operation, without direct line-of-sight observation. Amazon has plans for its MK27 drones, which have a maximum 5 lb carrying capacity, to do just that, but it’ll still likely be many years before the regulatory and air traffic control infrastructure is updated to the point where that can happen regularly.