The FAA had previously given Amazon its approval to test-fly a drone in March. But by then, Amazon’s prototype drone had become obsolete in the six months it took the aviation authority to respond to the company’s initial request.
Amazon submitted a new request with an updated prototype, which the FAA approved on Wednesday in a letter to Amazon.
"We're pleased the FAA has granted our petition for this stage of R&D experimentation, and we look forward to working with the agency for permission to deliver Prime Air service to customers in the United States safely and soon," Amazon executive Paul Misener said in an email to Engadget.
Now, it is free to test its Prime Air service, while also creating a regulatory pathway for other businesses interested in launching similar services.
The FAA ruled that Amazon must keep flights at an altitude of no more than 400 feet and no faster than 100 miles per hour. It is also prohibited from conducting test flights over "densely populated areas," in accordance with the proposed rules.
Seattle-based Amazon.com has been pursuing its goal of sending packages to customers by air, using small, self-piloted aircraft, even as it faces public concern about safety and privacy.
The company wants to use drones to deliver packages to its customers over distances of 10 miles or more. This would require drones to travel autonomously while equipped with technology to avoid collisions with other aircraft.
"It's possible 15, 20 years from now this is something that our kids will take for granted, that you just go online, order your deodorant and your light bulbs and batteries, and within 30 minutes it gets dropped into our backyard," Greg McNeal, a professor at Pepperdine University School of Law School, said during an interview with NPR.
While the technology exists – and demand would certainly follow – aviation regulations could keep Prime Air from fully evolving into what Amazon has envisioned.
Among the FAA’s recently proposed rules regarding commercial drone operations is a requirement that drones stay within the operator’s line of sight at all times.
In February, the FAA proposed long-awaited rules to try to set US guidelines for drones, addressing growing interest from both individual and corporations in using unmanned aerial vehicles.
When the rules were initially proposed, Misener, the Amazon exec, said in a statement: "The FAA needs to begin and expeditiously complete the formal process to address the needs of our business, and ultimately our customers. We are committed to realizing our vision for Prime Air and are prepared to deploy where we have the regulatory support we need."