Considering all of the talk and worry in the air these days on the subject of drones it seems all but impossible that nearly 16 months have passed since Jeff Bezos first revealed Amazon's plan to deploy such devices in the service of delivering our books, tech hardware, etc., in the can-see-it-from-here future.
In the days immediately following Bezos's reveal on "60 Minutes" in December 2013, the Amazon drone service — Prime Air — became for a short time one of the most shared stories (and videos) across the social media sphere. Then as fast as the topic rose into the collective connected consciousness it faded from thought. That is, until yesterday, when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that Amazon had been granted a special Experimental Airworthiness Certificate to test out new drones.
Now lest the vision of Amazon Prime Air drones soon flying willy-nilly all about town delivering packages hijack your imagination, it is important to note that the FAA license comes with some significant limitations, the showstopper of which is that the drones must always be within visual line-of-sight of their operators. Other flight-specific limitations of the license include:
- Operations must be conducted during daylight hours in visual meteorological conditions, at 400 feet or below
- Drone pilots must have a a private pilot's certificate at the least, as well as up-to-date medical certification
Amazon knew from the start that they would have need significant runway to achieve take off with their Prime Air program, and in fact up until now the company has been relegated to performing their live testing overseas (in Cambridge UK, to be specific, where it has been running an R&D lab dedicated to their drone project). On February 15, though, the FAA issued its "Small UAS" rule (UAS = Unmanned Aircraft Systems), which led to Amazon receiving clearance to move ahead with its drone service testing.