Amazon threatens to abandon U.S. delivery drone testing

WASHINGTON — Amazon is complaining about flight delays to the Federal Aviation Administration — delays that have grounded outdoor testing of the online retailer’s delivery drones in the U.S.

Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global public policy, sent a letter to the FAA, saying the company plans to move more of its outdoor testing to other countries if it doesn’t get a quick OK to do test flights in the U.S.

In July, Amazon asked the FAA for permission to do outdoor testing near Seattle for its Prime Air program, which would use small unmanned aircraft to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less.

Amazon still hasn’t received permission.

“Without approval of our testing in the United States, we will be forced to continue expanding our Prime Air R&D footprint abroad,” Misener wrote, in a letter first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

In the letter, Misener says Amazon has been conducting flight testing operations inside its lab and indoor testing facilities in Washington state, but “we must move beyond indoor testing if we are to realize the benefits of Amazon Prime Air.”

Commercial drone flights, including testing, are against the law in the United States.

Last year the U.S. government created six sites — but not the site near Amazon’s headquarters — for companies, universities and others test drones for broader commercial use. Amazon says it would be impractical to rely on the other sites.

In its letter, Amazon says it is poised to hire dozens of engineers, scientists and aeronautical professionals at its test site, once the company is granted permission for outdoor testing.

According to the WSJ, the U.S. has fewer than 10 approved commercial-drone operators, while Europe’s total is in the thousands.

In a statement, the FAA says it “is reviewing the response from Amazon regarding its petition request … Additionally the agency has designated an inspector to work closely with representatives from Amazon on its request for an experimental certificate to conduct research and development of unmanned aircraft.”

The FAA says since 2005 it has issued “over 200 initial and recurrent experimental research and development certificates to unmanned aircraft operations also known as ‘Special Airworthiness Certificates.'”

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