Amazon issued with licence for delivery drone madness

FAA also considering inflatable dartboards, chocolate teacups

An Amazon Prime Air drone

Amazon has been granted a special "experimental airworthiness certificate" by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to test out new drones.

The only problem is it's completely useless to the online retailer as it contains a line-of-sight requirement that would make its main aim of delivering packages impossible.

It is over two years ago that Amazon first pitched the idea of a "Prime Air" service that would deliver the company's goods direct to your door, with CEO Jeff Bezos showing off a prototype on CBS' 60 Minutes.

The idea was swiftly shot down not just by our local weaponry expert but also by eBay's CEO who called it a "fantasy", by the CEO of drone transportation firm Matternet, by the author of some code who claims he could take over any drone nearby, and then eventually by the FAA itself which drafted regulation last month that said all drones would have to be "Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) only" and that "unmanned aircraft must remain within VLOS of the operator or visual observer".

In other words, forget about delivery parcels, although we should note that a brewery highlighted that delivery was feasible. Ah, beer, such a tonic for creative thought.

Hiring

But Amazon did appear serious as recently as June last year, advertising for a communications manager for Prime Air and pleading with the FAA to give its idea serious thought.

It even told the agency that it has hired a "growing team of world-renowned roboticists, scientists, aeronautical engineers, remote sensing experts, and a former NASA astronaut" in its bid to make it happen.

In the FAA's granting of the certificate it notes that "all flight operations must be conducted at 400 feet or below during daylight hours in visual meteorological conditions" and it says that the pilot must have "at least a private pilot’s certificate and current medical certification". Amazon also has to supply monthly flying data.

But it is the visual line-of-sight provision that screws up the delivery plans. "The UAS must always remain within visual line-of-sight of the pilot and observer," the FAA notes. The idea of a FedEx driver trundling along the road staring up in the sky to follow a drone not only seems redundant but downright dangerous.

So why is Amazon pursuing the idea? We've asked them and will get back if they do. Maybe they imagine that at some point in future the FAA will change its mind and the intervening years will have given it time to perfect the approach. Maybe it just forgot to cancel the license request.

What is good news, however, is that with the Amazon certification out the way, the FAA may find time to get off its ass and approve The Reg's Vulture2 spaceplane LOHAN super-experiment. ®

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