Amazon is furious with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over drone regulation. The company's language in front of a Senate committee was polite enough, but it was clear what Amazon really thinks about the aviation authority.
Amazon accused the FAA of lacking the "impetus" to approve tests, saying the slow pace of regulation is "inadequate" by international standards. Indeed, the FAA is so sluggish, Amazon said it only just approved the testing of a now-obsolete drone — while newer models are being tested in Europe.
Paul Misener, Amazon's vice president for global public policy, delivered the comments at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Amazon's hard words were a clear attempt to spur the FAA into approving the testing of delivery drones more quickly.
Amazon had to wait more than six months for recent testing approval. Misener said Amazon has never had to wait more than one or two months for testing elsewhere.
Furthermore, the FAA approval covered just one UAS model, whereas authorities in Europe have approved testing of different UAS, allowing Amazon to tweak prototype drones during testing.
Amazon's other big grievance is that the FAA is only allowing "line of sight" testing. FAA rules say the risk of a communication drop with devices and the lack of human "see and avoid" abilities make mid-air collisions too dangerous — but Amazon claims "sense and avoid" technology and on-board intelligence mitigate the risks.
Misener said an FAA-approved committee – formed to investigate beyond "line of sight" testing – has only met twice since its inception last year.
"This low level of government attention and slow pace are inadequate, especially compared to the regulatory efforts in other countries," Misenar said, adding, "What the FAA needs is impetus, lest the United States fall further behind."
This is about as fresh as the language gets at Senate hearings and is a pretty damning indictment of the FAA. The tech giant is obviously worried that it won't be able to develop its Prime Air delivery system in its most profitable market.
The UK's Department for Transport and Civil Aviation Authority, the European Commission, and the European Aviation Safety Agency are allowing Amazon test drones more freely — but the company doesn't deliver nearly as many packages in Europe as it does in the U.S.
Amazon currently tests its drones at a huge indoor facility outside Seattle. It needs the FAA to be more compliant so it can test its automated delivery drones outdoors, where there will be wind and dust, etc.
If Amazon Prime Air is ever to be realized as imagined in the video below — it will happen with the cooperation of the FAA. It'll be interesting to see what response, if any, this very public telling-off elicits from the FAA.