Amazon Gets FAA Certificate, But Don’t Expect Drone Delivery Just Yet

March 22, 2015 Updated: March 22, 2015

Last month, the Federal Aviation Agency rolled out a set of rules that would allow commercial drones to operate by 2017. Companies like Amazon protested because the rules required the drones to be operated by someone in the line of sight of the flying device, which would effectively outlaw its Prime Air delivery service as envisioned.

Last week, the company received good, if not exactly ideal, news from the FAA. Amazon would be granted an experimental certificate to test drones immediately, but the testing would still have to follow FAA guidelines similar to the restrictions proposed in February, including the onerous line-of-sight rule. 

“Under the provisions of the certificate, all flight operations must be conducted at 400 feet or below during daylight hours in visual meteorological conditions. The UAS must always remain within visual line-of-sight of the pilot and observer. The pilot actually flying the aircraft must have at least a private pilot’s certificate and current medical certification,” the FAA said in a statement.

Amazon has previously filed for an exemption from section 333 of the FAA rules for its delivery package system, a case that is still pending and unrelated to the recently issued certificate. Amazon had suggested in a letter in December that if a regulatory regime for drones is not quickly established, the company could move its experiments overseas.

“Companies like Amazon are at the forefront of technological advances and are investing heavily in research and development. It is important to ensure that innovative uses of UAS technology, such as package delivery, take off in the U.S.,” Brian Wynne said in a statement on the issuing of the experiment certificate. Wynne is the CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a drone advocacy group.

Drone testing has already taken off in other countries. In late 2013, Deutsche Post DHL experimented with unmanned drones to deliver lightweight packages across the Rhine river.