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Frustrated Amazon warns FAA it may move drone research abroad

Amazon is threatening to move more of its drone development work outside of the U.S. unless the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) relaxes its rules regarding outdoor testing by commercial operators.

The company, which is keen to move ahead with its ambitious plan to launch a drone-based delivery service called Prime Air, first contacted the FAA with the request back in July.

However, its slow response is evidently causing frustration among executives at the Seattle-based company, leading it to fire off a repeated request.

‘Forced abroad’

“Without approval of our testing in the United States, we will be forced to continue expanding our Prime Air R&D footprint abroad,” Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global public policy, writes in the letter.

He told the FAA that the company’s desire to conduct more outdoor tests has meant it’s had to go to “countries with regulatory environments more supportive of small UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) innovation.”

The FAA is proceeding cautiously with regulations for the commercial use of drones and is reluctant to relax the rules until it’s seriously considered all the safety implications.

Related: Amazon looks set to ramp up Prime Air R&D in UK

While it would obviously be in the interest of the U.S. economy to keep drone development inside the country with all the investment and job benefits it brings, Amazon clearly feels it’s waited long enough for the FAA to make a decision regarding its own project.

As Misener noted in his letter, the company is already conducting some of its drone testing overseas, and just last month we learned Amazon is planning to build a huge R&D center in the UK focusing mainly on the development of its delivery drone.

Drone proposals

New proposals for commercial drone flights are expected to be announced by the FAA soon, and according to reports could mean operators will have to have a pilot’s license to fly the machines.

Current drone-related regulations in the U.S. are so tight that few commercial operators have permission to use them, with Amazon one of many firms pressing the FAA to move more swiftly in its dealings with the technology.

[Via WSJ]