Moving ahead with UAS deliveries, Amazon asks FAA for exemption

By Patrick C. Miller | August 08, 2014

Amazon.com last month joined a growing number of business interests petitioning the FAA for exemption from restrictions on using UAS for commercial purposes in the national airspace.

In a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, Paul Misener, Amazon vice president for global public policy, cited Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. It gives the agency authority to grant expedited operational authorization to safely accelerate the integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system.

“By this petition,” Misener wrote, “Amazon is seeking its first such authorization, in order to conduct additional research and development for Prime Air.”

The goal of Amazon’s proposed Prime Air delivery system is to get packages into customers' hands in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles.

“One day, seeing Amazon Prime Air will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today, resulting in enormous benefits for consumers across the nation,” Misener said in his letter to the FAA.  

According to the FAA, Certificates of Waiver or Authorization are available to public entities that want to fly a UAS in civil airspace.

“To receive the exemptions, the firms must show that their UAS operations will not adversely affect safety, or provide at least an equal level of safety to the rules from which they seek the exemption,” the FAA says. “They would also need to show why granting the exemption would be in the public interest.”

Misener writes that Amazon’s exemption is in the public interest “because it advances Congress’s goal of getting commercial UAS flying in the United States safely and soon.”

He added, “It is a necessary step towards realizing the consumer benefits of Amazon Prime Air and, at this point, Amazon’s continuing innovation in the United States requires the requested exemption for outdoor testing in support of our R&D.”

In the letter, Misener also provided insights on Amazon’s ongoing development of UAS technology for its Prime Air service.

“We are rapidly experimenting and iterating on Prime Air inside our next generation research and development lab in Seattle,” he noted. “In the past five months, we have made advancements toward the development of highly‐automated aerial vehicles for Prime Air.”

According Misener, the advancements include:

  • A range for the company’s eighth‐ and ninth‐generation aerial vehicles to test agility, flight duration, redundancy, and sense‐and‐avoid sensors and algorithms;  
  • Aerial vehicles that travel at speeds more than 50 miles per hour carrying five‐pound payloads, which cover 86 percent of products Amazon sells; and
  • Attracting a growing team of world‐renowned roboticists, scientists, aeronautical engineers, remote sensing experts, and a former NASA astronaut.

Misener provided another reason for the FAA to grant Amazon’s petition for an exemption.

“Of course, Amazon would prefer to keep the focus, jobs, and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States by conducting private research and development operations outdoors near Seattle—where our next generation R&D lab and distinguished team of engineers, scientists and aeronautical professionals are located,” he wrote. 

The FAA said it has been working for several months to implement the provisions of Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and move forward with UAS integration before proposing a small UAS rule.

Amazon joined the film and television industry in filing formal petitions for exemptions.  The FAA said several other industries have approached it and are also considering filing exemption requests. They include precision agriculture, power line and pipeline inspection, and oil and gas flare stack inspection.