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Amazon’s drone approval obsolete

Jay Greene Seattle Times

The approval federal aviation officials gave Amazon.com last week to test a specific drone design outdoors is already outdated, the company’s top policy executive said Tuesday in written testimony to a Senate subcommittee.

Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global public policy, said the Federal Aviation Administration approved an older drone design that the company has moved past. The company needs FAA approval for outdoor testing of drones that it hopes to one day deploy to deliver small packages to customers within 30 minutes in a service it has dubbed Prime Air.

“(W)e innovated so rapidly that the UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) approved last week by the FAA has become obsolete,” Misener said in testimony submitted to the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security. “We don’t test it anymore. We’ve moved on to more advanced designs that we already are testing abroad.”

Misener used the example to make the point that U.S. regulators are moving too slowly in rapidly evolving commercial drone development. Amazon has said it’s testing drones in countries such as the United Kingdom, where governments have quickly created rules to allow it to conduct extensive research and development.

“Our testing abroad has required but minimal aviation regulatory approval, given the low risk presented by our small UAS designs; the R&D nature of our flight activity; and our relatively rural test sites,” Misener wrote in his testimony.

Misener is one of six witnesses scheduled to testify Tuesday before the subcommittee that’s looking into efforts by the FAA to integrate drones into the National Airspace System. It will also explore potential privacy concerns that drone use raises.

In separate written testimony, Margaret Gilligan, associate administrator for aviation safety at the FAA, wrote the agency is moving quickly while trying to ensure public safety.

“The FAA is safely and steadily integrating (drones) into the largest, most complex aviation system in the world,” Gilligan wrote.

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