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Amazon is the latest to get approval to fly forward with new drone tests

April 10, 2015, 7:55 PM UTC
Airplane flies over a drone during the Polar Bear Plunge on Coney Island in the Brooklyn borough of New York
An airplane flies over a drone during the Polar Bear Plunge on Coney Island in the Brooklyn borough of New York January 1, 2015. The Coney Island Polar Bear Club is one of the oldest winter bathing organizations in the United States and holds a New Year's Day plunge every year. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY ANNIVERSARY) - RTR4JUL7
Photograph by Carlo Allegri — Reuters

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By Catherine Clifford, Entrepreneur

Drones, or small unmanned aircraft systems, still evoke the Jetsons a wee bit. But increasingly using drones is becoming generally accepted business practice.

Federal regulators just this week granted Amazon (AMZN) permission to test drones for making deliveries and for outdoor research, according to a letter posted on the Federal Aviation Administration’s website, dated Wednesday of this week.

That said, it isn’t a free-for-all for the Seattle-based giant. Amazon’s drones can not fly faster than 100 miles per hour, fly higher than 400 feet above ground level and can not weigh more than 55 pounds, according to the letter.

Amazon has been gunning to use drones for delivery since July, when the company initially petitioned the FAA to allow it to use drones. But it took until March for the FAA to grant permission to finally Amazon.

Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president for global public policy, blasted federal regulators for being so slow. By the time the FAA approved Amazon’s petition to use drone technology, the technology had already evolved and become more sophisticated, Misener said in a hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Following the heat the FAA took for being too slow, the government agency today announced that it would be able to approve “summary grants” of new drone technology going forward. This new method of updating regulation is “far more efficient” for pushing regulation changes through, according to a statement from the FAA.

Meanwhile, as Amazon is gearing up to be able to use drones to deliver packages, three insurance giants — names AIG (AIG), State Farm and USAA — also announced this week that they have been cleared by government regulators to use drones to observe, catalogue and manage damage caused by natural disasters.

“AIG is committed to continuous improvement and innovation in providing better, faster, and safer risk and claims assessments to our customers,” said Eric Martinez, the executive vice president of claims and operation at AIG, in a statement. “Leveraging cutting edge technologies like UAVs can enhance our ability to assess and mitigate risks to better help our customers and their communities prepare for and rebuild after a catastrophic event.”

Drones will allow insurance companies to serve their customers faster in the wake of a natural disaster, according to State Farm insurance company. “The potential use of UAS provides us one more innovative tool to help State Farm customers recover from the unexpected as quickly and efficiently as possible,” said Wensley Herbert, a Vice President of Claims at State Farm, in a statement announcing the new regulatory permission.

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