Amazon asks FAA permission to test delivery drones

Unmanned aircraft system, Amazon PrimeAir, developed by Amazon.com to deliver packages to customers by air. Amazon.com

Online retailer Amazon has petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for an exemption from current aviation rules in order to fly its unmanned drones in American airspace.

It is part of Amazon's plan to deliver items to customers 30 minutes after they hit the "buy" button, a program its CEO Jeff Bezos first revealed to CBS News on "60 Minutes" last December.

The aerial delivery service, called Amazon Prime Air, would dispatch a small GPS-equipped robotic helicopter -- also known as an unmanned aircraft system, or UAS -- to pick up an ordered item at a warehouse and fly it to the customer's door, as seen in the video below from Amazon. The drone can travel over 50 miles per hour and carry loads of up to 5 pounds. About 86 percent of Amazon's deliveries are 5 pounds or less, the company said.

The FAA is currently developing guidelines for commercial drone use. Last year, Congress directed the agency to draft regulations for drones access to U.S. airspace by September 2015. But the agency already has missed several deadlines and said the process would take longer than expected, the Associated Press reports.

Amazon submitted a letter to the FAA on Wednesday noting that "Amazon shares Congress's goal of getting small aerial vehicles (a.k.a., small unmanned aircraft systems, or "sUAS") flying commercially in the United States safely and soon."

It went on to say, "In the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Congress directed the FAA 'to safely accelerate the integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system' and, under Section 333 of that law, gave the FAA power to grant innovators 'expedited operational authorization' to do so. By this petition, Amazon is seeking its first such authorization, in order to conduct additional research and development for Prime Air."

So far, Amazon has done its research and development on drones either indoors or in other countries. The letter requests permission to test drones in the U.S. on its own property, away from populated areas.

The FAA says that in order to receive permission, "Amazon 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. They also need to show why granting the exemption would be in the public interest."

The FAA also notes that "a flight that is not for hobby or recreation requires a certified aircraft, a licensed pilot and operating approval. The FAA authorizes such flights on a case-by-case basis. To date, two operations have met these criteria."

The Associated Press reports those two drone models -- Boeing and the Insitu Group's ScanEagle, and AeroVironment's Puma -- are certified to operate only in Alaska.

If the FAA allows Amazon to test its aircraft, when will Prime Air be ready for prime time? The company says on its Web site that it will take a few years for the technology and airspace regulations to develop to the point that the service could be in regular use. Amazon says, "We hope the FAA's rules will be in place as early as sometime in 2015. We will be ready at that time."

Amazon's stock rose on the news, jumping more than $17 from its start today at $334.71.

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