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Amazon test drones to take off after US approval

The US online retail giant has received a certificate from US regulators to experiment with unmanned aircraft for research, development and crew training, in support of its efforts to deliver packages with flying drones.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Thursday it had granted Amazon Logistics "an experimental airworthiness certificate" allowing the US online company to test its unmanned aircraft.

The certificate would allow Amazon to conduct flights at 400 feet (122 meters) or below during daylight hours, with the drone "within visual line-of-sight of the pilot and observer," FAA said in a statement. The person controlling the drone must have at least a private pilot's certificate and medical certification, the administration added.

Amazon must also provide monthly data to the FAA on the number of flights conducted and report any problems resulting from the tests.

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The approval is a victory for the Seattle-based company, which last year threatened the FAA to take much of its research for its drone program outside the United States amid frustrations with the regulatory agency.

The company hopes to develop a delivery system which would dispatch small packages in under 30 minutes. The program dubbed "Prime Air" aims to use drones that fly at speeds of 50 miles per hour (80 kph) and operate autonomously, sensing and avoiding objects. Amazon is also working with NASA on an air-traffic management system for drones.

In February, the FAA proposed sweeping new guidelines for drones for civilian purposes, addressing growing interest from both individuals and corporations. The new rules stipulate that the person controlling a drone will be considered an "operator" and will be required to pass an aeronautical knowledge test as well as obtain an FAA certificate.

Last September, DHL was given permission to use drones for a period of two months for deliveries of medicine and other essential items to the car-free German North Sea island of Juist. It was the first authorized trial in Europe, DHL said at the time.

uhe/ng (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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