July 11, 2014 9:50 AM, EDT

Amazon Seeks FAA Permission to Test Delivery Drones Outdoors

TT File Photo Inc., which wants to deliver packages by drone, asked aviation regulators for permission to expand testing outside its research laboratory.

“We are rapidly experimenting and iterating on Prime Air inside our next generation research and development lab in Seattle,” the company said in a letter posted on a government website yesterday. Amazon is based in that city.

The company wants to deliver packages weighing less than 5 pounds with unmanned aircraft capable of reaching speeds of more than 50 mph, it said.

Amazon says 86% of its deliveries are light enough to be made by its proposed drones, allowing for faster service to customers. The Federal Aviation Administration, which has banned most commercial drone operations until it crafts rules for them, at least initially doesn’t plan to allow the kind of automated flight paths envisioned by Amazon.

To date, Amazon has been able to test its aircraft only in its lab or in other countries, it said.

“Amazon would prefer to keep the focus, jobs and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States by conducting private research and development operations outdoors near Seattle,” it said in the letter signed by Paul Misener, vice president for global public policy.

The letter was sent in response to a June 25 request by FAA for comments on whether it should grant exemptions permitting commercial drone flights before it completes regulations. The notice was prompted by requests from seven photo and video production companies, according to FAA.

The agency was given authority to grant exemptions under a 2012 law that also required it to begin integrating unmanned aircraft into U.S. airways by next year.