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Frustrated Amazon Ponders Taking Drone Delivery Testing Abroad
Amazon Prime Air would use unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver packages within 30 minutes or less.


A new letter from Amazon to the Federal Aviation Administration indicates the e-commerce giant is getting frustrated with the wait for approval to test package delivery drones.

An Amazon vice president wrote that drone engineering and testing could soon be relocated abroad from the Seattle area.

Back in July, Amazon asked permission to begin outdoor drone testing over rural property it owns in Washington state. The goal is to further refine an express delivery concept dubbed Amazon Prime Air. Amazon is still waiting for a yes or no from the FAA, along with dozens of other American companies that want to fly drones as part of their businesses.

About five weeks ago, an FAA official asked Amazon to clarify how aerial delivery would be "in the public interest." Amazon vice president of global public policy Paul Misener replied this week that using drones would be "more environmentally friendly" and safer than surface transportation.

In the meantime, Amazon says it has started outdoor testing of its Prime Air drones in the United Kingdom. The company's letter voices concern that more jobs and innovation will be transferred abroad.

"Amazon is increasingly concerned that, unless substantial progress is quickly made in opening up the skies in the United States, the nation is at risk of losing its position as the center of innovation for the UAS technological revolution, along with the key jobs and economic benefits that come as a result," wrote Misener in his letter.

Amazon's original request for an exemption from the FAA's current ban on most commercial unmanned aircraft operations includes various safety assurances. The company states its small, battery-powered drones would fly no higher than 400 feet off the ground, remain within line of sight of the operator and have a kill switch if something goes wrong.

The application says Amazon's R&D lab in Seattle is "developing aerial vehicles that travel over 50 miles per hour, and will carry five-pound payloads, which cover 86 percent of products sold on Amazon." The e-commerce giant says its eventual goal is to have the capability to deliver packages to consumers within thirty minutes or less of purchase.

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.