Amazon Testing Commercial Drones at Secret Canadian Proving Ground

by Matt Klassen on April 1, 2015

For the last nine months Amazon has been actively petitioning the Federal Aviation Administration for exemption to the current rules regarding commercial drone flights, as the ecommerce company is hoping to begin advanced real world testing for its next generation drone delivery service. The problem has been, however, the FAA’s reticence to embrace new technology, particularly technology that would potentially see thousands of unmanned aircraft buzzing through our skies.

Frustrated by the government’s languid pace of change regarding such technology Amazon has decided to make good on threats to bypass US regulation by taking its drone testing elsewhere, and it turns out the skies of Canada are more than willing to accommodate the future of airborne package delivery.

So while Amazon continues to attempt to navigate US restrictions and those horrendous wait lines for testing approval, the Seattle company has taken its business a few hours north, testing its drones at a secret proving ground in British Columbia, giving us Canadians the satisfaction that when little robots start dropping packages from the sky, it was our permissiveness that made it all possible.

As Amazon’s VP for global public policy Paul Misener explains, the company isn’t willing to wait until American regulators find an “impetus” to legalize these drones. Further, Amazon rejects the FAA’s portrayal ofUSairspace as uniquely complex, arguing that bothCanadaandEuropehave an abundance of air traffic, yet they still approved drone testing and commercial drone flights.

Recently it had looked as if the stalemate between Amazon and the FAA had been resolved, as the Administration had granted the ecommerce company permission to begin testing its drone delivery in Washington State. The problem for Amazon, however, is that the decision took well over six months, and by the time approval was granted the drone model in question was virtually obsolete, Amazon having developed several successive iterations. Not only that, but the permission granted was still far more restrictive than that given by Canada or the UK.

“The good news is that, while the FAA was considering our applications for testing, we innovated so rapidly that the UAS approved last week by the FAA has become obsolete. We don’t test it anymore. We’ve moved on to more advanced designs that we already are testing abroad,” Misener told members of the Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security.

The bad news is, of course, that the company’s latest drones have no authorization to fly in the US, prompting Amazon to seek out a more forward-thinking government in tune with technological innovation…or just Canada.

“We need permission to rapidly modify our test vehicles, without administrative delays associated with every change,” Misener said.

“Obtaining permission took far too long, and certainly much longer — over half a year — than it took in other countries,” he noted.

According to Transport Canada, Amazon’s Canadian arm has been approved a testing license, one that went into effect on Dec. 17th and is valid for one year. As CBC News explains, “[The approval] specifies the drones’ maximum altitude, minimum distances from people and property, operating areas and requirements for coordinating with air traffic services.”

So there you have it, the permissive culture of Canada wins again; so when Amazon drones start dropping packages from the sky you’ll know you have Canada to thank for it, and when everything goes wrong as it invariably will, you can be rest assured you’ll get one of our trademarked heartfelt Canadian apologies as well.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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