Amazon asks approval to test delivery drones

WASHINGTON – Online retail giant Amazon.com has teamed with three drone manufacturers to push federal agencies and lawmakers to move forward with regulations for unmanned aerial vehicles.

The group’s main goal is to urge the government to grant permission to companies to test and operate small commercial drones that weigh less than 55 pounds and fly under 400 feet or above 60,000 feet. The coalition is made up of Amazon’s Prime Air unit and drone manufacturers DJI Innovations, Parrot and 3D Robotics.

Amazon founder Jeffrey Bezos, who owns The Washington Post and associated publications, has expressed interest in starting a service for Amazon.com customers that would deliver packages via small drones in less than 30 minutes.

Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, are being used already by some law enforcement agencies to fight fires and photograph accident scenes. The Federal Aviation Administration in 2013 authorized the first commercial flight by a drone chartered by ConocoPhillips to scan the seafloor to survey marine mammals before drilling. But the group wants to expand the ways consumers and private companies can use drones to accomplish a host of other functions. Beyond delivering packages, they could be deployed for such uses as photographing real estate properties, tracking poachers who hunt game illegally and expanding broadband to parts of the world with limited access.

“The possibilities for unmanned aerial vehicle use are limitless,” said lobbyist Michael Drobac of the law and lobbying firm Akin Gump, which is representing the group.

Drobac and fellow Akin Gump lobbyists Jennifer Richter and Gregory Walden have been meeting with staff and policymakers in Congress, the FAA, the Federal Communications Commission and the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. Most drone-related regulations fall under the authority of the FAA, but the FCC would deal with spectrum issues, and the White House’s technology policy arm could have a hand in shaping privacy-related rules.

The FAA is slated to announce proposed rules for small commercial drones later this year. The agency estimates that by 2018, there could be as many as 7,500 small commercial drones in use in the United States. In 2013, the FAA announced six U.S. sites for drone research and testing in Alaska, North Dakota, Nevada, New York, Texas and Virginia.

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