FAA Allows Drone Testing Beyond Line of Sight

As part of its announcement of a drone testing program in conjunction with CNN, drone manufacturer PrecisionHawk and BNSF Railroad, the Federal Aviation Administration said today it will allow commercial testing of drones beyond line-of-sight from the pilot. This makes the concept of drone deliveries by Amazon and Google a bit closer to reality.

According to Amazon, the company’s lead on its delivery drone project Amazon Prime Air, Gur Kimchi, said the FAA has lately become more open to its efforts to use automated drones for delivering packages within 10 miles of a warehouse.

Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) Coalition, which counts both Amazon Prime Air and Google’s Project Wing as members, said the FAA decision was a “baby step” in the right direction, because Europe is ahead of the U.S. in terms of drone development and commercial use.

“On the delivery front, if you can click a button and have your diapers or whatever you need delivered to your house in 30 minutes via drone, what’s wrong with that if it can be done safely?” Drobac said. “You can’t have delivery if you can’t go beyond line of sight and have them controlled automatically. What’s the point of an unmanned vehicle if it’s in fact tied to a man or woman?”

Drobac added the FAA decision shows the agency “is getting it, and adapting as other nations have been ahead of the U.S., and we’re still behind. But the story is getting better. The U.S. is coming to the technology late, but in the end we’ll win.”

Last month, the FAA issued Amazon a conditional approval for drone testing, just weeks after the company complained that the FAA’s approval process had taken so long that the vehicle in question had become obsolete.