It has recently come to light via a chain of email correspondences that Amazon has been testing its drone technology in U.K. airspace for much longer than initially believed.
The correspondences were written between Amazon and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the organization responsible for regulating safety, economics and consumer protection for commercial aviation in the U.K. The 45-page correspondence was uploaded to the CAA’s website after someone filed a freedom of information request.
Amazon has been in contact with the CAA since 2014 and has been testing drones in U.K. airspace since summer 2015. Before the release of the documents, most were under the impression that Amazon’s drones had only come to the U.K. in summer of 2016.
Amazon’s plans to deliver via drone were first announced in late 2013, but it has hit some barriers to rolling out the technology across the U.S. The FAA published rules in early 2015 that cut back on the use of autonomous drones and drones operated by an onboard camera for commercial use.
These rules required commercial drones to be operated in direct line-of-sight of operators, flying no higher than 500 feet and close enough that an operator can see the drone with no visual aids — vastly restricting Amazon’s drone testing and launching capabilities here in the States, despite consumer demand.
But in the U.K., the CAA granted Amazon special permissions to test its drone delivery technology in U.K. airspace.
Perhaps in response, the U.S. changed its tune in late August of this year … sort of. The FAA loosened its restrictions a bit by allowing operators to fly drones without needing to obtain a costly and time-intensive pilot’s license. Instead, operators now need to pass an aeronautics exam before they are allowed to fly.