Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery plans scored a boost on Thursday. The Federal Aviation Administration approved an exemption allowing the company to move forward with operations while working towards formal certification of the MK27 UA aircraft and the airline operations. The approval comes with significant limits, but allows the company to continue development of the platform and supports progress towards the necessary certifications.
The relief provided in this 44807 exemption would enable the Amazon MK27 unmanned aircraft (MK27 UA) and associated aircraft systems (MK27 UAS) to operate in cargo delivery operations without an airworthiness certificate. The FAA concludes that Amazon’s compliance with the conditions and limitations of this exemption, along with the FAA’s safety evaluation of the MK27 UAS, will enable Amazon’s operations using the MK27 UAS without adversely affecting safety. Amazon is currently engaged in the process to receive a type certificate for the MK27 UAS utilized in its operations.
While this represents a significant step forward, don’t expect to see drone deliveries too soon. While it does permit the company to operate the MK27 beyond visual line of sight, it comes up short on what would be needed for true commercial service. The exemptions focus on allowing the company to develop the necessary expertise and infrastructure to bring the system online. That’s not a quick process, however. And the MK27 still must remain pretty far from people, buildings, roads and more.
The approval comes after significant testing and data sharing with the FAA. Additionally, FAA representatives observed nine demonstration flights on July 14-15, 2020 to validate system performance. This included effective execution of the Flight Termination System remote abort feature.
What Amazon Prime Air’s drone exemption covers
Amazon’s MK27 is a multi-motor craft designed complete the last mile delivery of packages for the company. Because of its size the MK27 requires certification from the FAA for operation. As part of this exemption the company wins the right to continue operations and development without that certification issued, so long as it continues to work through the formal process with the Agency. The Agency is explicit that the “exemption process is not intended to replace the normal aircraft type certification process.”
Similarly, running a fleet of aircraft in this manner would typically require the company to hold a Part 135 license from the FAA to conduct commercial, nonscheduled aircraft operations. Amazon Prime Air scored an exemption from that requirement for the MK27 testing and development process. As the Mk27 realizes certification, however, it is expected that the company will also complete the process for its Part 135 license, transitioning to a more traditional FAA-certified operation.
What Amazon Prime Air still cannot do with its drones
The FAA attached 28 explicit conditions to the exemption approval. These guarantee that the company will not be using the service in support of its customer-facing delivery services right now. Among the key restrictions:
- Operations may not be conducted at night until such time as the MK27 UA is equipped with appropriate lighting.
- For all operations, the UA must be equipped and operated with an anti-collision light visible for at least 3 statute miles between the beginning of evening civil twilight and the end of morning civil twilight.
- The MK27 UA must not be operated higher than 400 feet above ground level (AGL).
- Amazon must designate a perimeter with a minimum 100 foot radius centered at the takeoff, landing and delivery points. Amazon must ensure that no person is inside the perimeter(s) during takeoff, landing and delivery.
- Operations over or within 250 feet laterally of moving vehicles are prohibited.
- Sustained flight within 250 feet laterally of roadways is prohibited.
- Operations over human beings and structures are prohibited.
- The MK27 UA must remain at least 100 feet laterally from any person or structure during all phases of flight.
- Operations are permitted only in sparsely populated areas.
Even with these restrictions in place the company’s ability to move forward in testing is significant. This is just one of many necessary steps in the process. But the process continues to progress.
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