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New FAA proposals scupper Amazon drone delivery service

Amazon Prime Air, the retail giant’s proposed drone delivery service, may struggle to get off the ground following new proposed regulations by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Amongst the FAA restrictions is the ruling that drones must stay within eyesight of their operator at all times and must not fly over individuals with no connection to the drone’s use.

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While both limitations would severely hamper the firm’s delivery plans, Amazon’s vice president of global public policy, Paul Misener, issued a statement suggesting that the ruling was out-of-touch with modern day business and consumer needs.

“The FAA needs to begin and expeditiously complete the formal process to address the needs of our business, and ultimately our customers,” he said. “We are committed to realising our vision for Prime Air and are prepared to deploy where we have the regulatory support we need.”

Amazon has already begun transferring some of its Prime Air research and development work to a facility in Cambridge, the UK, and Mr Misener’s statement suggests that the online firm would be willing to move more of its projects abroad when faced with regulatory issues.

While the FAA’s new rules for small unmanned aircraft systems are only proposals at this stage and are yet to be ratified by the US government, they do pose a significant headache for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his conceptual Prime Air service.

Other restrictions set to be implemented by the FAA include a maximum speed of 100mph and a weight limit of 55 pounds. Drones would also only be able to undertake day-time flights and not exceed altitudes of 500 feet.

Drone operators would also have to pass a FAA-approved aeronautical knowledge test, and face follow-up tests every two years.

“We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry.”

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Despite the FAA’s claims of flexibility, Amazon may now have to wait almost a year to see if the regulations are ultimately enforced, meaning further delays to the launch of Prime Air are likely.

Barclay has been writing about technology for a decade, starting out as a freelancer with IT Pro Portal covering everything from London’s start-up scene to comparisons of the best cloud storage services.  After that, he spent some time as the managing editor of an online outlet focusing on cloud computing, furthering his interest in virtualization, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.