Amazon petitions FAA for commercial drone ops exemption 

In addition to wide- and narrowbody freighters joining the Amazon Air fleet, Prime Air drones may soon begin delivering Amazon purchases directly to customer doorsteps. Next in the series of the broader air cargo industry’s commercial drone saga, Amazon Prime Air submitted a petition to the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) yesterday that, if approved, would enable the carrier to conduct commercial delivery operations with its fixed-wing MK27 unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones.

With the exemptions, Amazon Prime Air aims to conduct its drone deliveries to customer locations and designated drop points within thirty minutes of customers placing an order, for parcels of up to five pounds. The e-commerce giant estimates 80-85% of its products fall within that range. For delivery, the drones will operate on a flight trajectory generated by a universal transverse Mercator coordinate system (UTM) and safety management system, which will allow the drones to avoid all known overflight areas, obstacles and obstructions.

(Image source: Amazon’s petition submitted to FAA on 8 August, 2019)

To support the pursuit of these operations, Amazon Prime Air petitioned to the FAA a request seeking exemption specifically from the:

  • Special Authority for Certain Unmanned Systems (49 USC) section 44807
  • Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) Title 14 parts 61, 91 and 135

Section 44807 under 49 USC provides the Secretary of Transportation authority to determine whether a certificate is required for the operation of certain drones and which types of UAS do not create hazard to users of national airspace or the public. Amazon Prime Air said it has already applied for a type certificate for the MK27 but does not currently have the necessary airworthiness certificate to support its operation under a Part 135 AOC, and Amazon does not expect to have completed the type certificate process before the initial Prime Air operations are ready to begin.

CFR Title 14 is the set of federal aviation rules and regulations governing the US. Part 61 pertains to the certification of pilots; Part 91 pertains to general operating and flight rules; and Part 135 pertains to operating requirements related to on-demand operations. Amazon said that it has already conducted extensive operations under 14 CFR Part 107 and has certificated four different models of Prime Air drones under experimental category provisions under 14 CFR Part 21.

Amazon reports having conducted extensive testing at ranges in the US and has launched development centers in the US, United Kingdom, France, Austria and Israel.

In its petition, Amazon said that its request is “far from an attempt to bypass the normal rulemaking process” and is instead the “next step in an iterative process that we have undertaken with the FAA and regulators worldwide to ensure prime Air’s operations will achieve the levels of safety needed to meet our commitment to our customers and the general public, and required by regulation.”

Responses to the petition Amazon submitted are required to be received by 28 August, 2019.

Whether the FAA grants the exemption remains to be seen, though the approval could give Amazon an advantage in the launch of commercial drone operations against competitors also developing drone operations, like DHL and UPS.