2500 applicants sign up to get in on drone experiments, but Amazon’s not on the list

Aerix Drone

The city of Seattle, King County, Boeing, KING 5 and Tukwila’s police department are among more than 2,500 organizations and individuals who have registered their interest in experiments that could lead to routine drone deliveries, aerial night patrols and other advanced operations involving unmanned aerial systems.

One big name is missing from the Federal Aviation Administration’s list, which was published this week. It’s Amazon, the Seattle-based online retailer that’s been working on its own drone delivery system for years.

The fact that Amazon isn’t mentioned as an “interested party” doesn’t mean Amazon is uninterested: Registering isn’t a requirement for participating in the UAS Integration Pilot Program, which  the FAA set up to push the envelope for drone operations.

Being on the list of interested parties merely serves as a signal that the registrant wants to join a team that’ll be put together by governmental entities on a different list. That list of “lead applicants” has not been published.

Amazon could well be making plans in the background to join up with a lead applicant, in Seattle or elsewhere. For now, Amazon isn’t sharing any plans. But when the FAA’s initiative came to light in October, Amazon issued a statement supporting the pilot program.

Lead applicants will be forming up their teams in the weeks ahead, and will have to submit their rosters by Jan. 4. Then the FAA will select at least five communities to participate in the first round of the drone experimental program. Those communities will be given the go-ahead to try out operating modes that are typically off-limits for drones, such as letting them fly beyond an operator’s line of sight, fly at night or fly over uninvolved people.

The lead applicants — which can be state, local or tribal governments — will be in charge of monitoring their operations.

Just as not being on the interested-parties list doesn’t mean an applicant is uninterested, being on the list doesn’t mean applicants will go through with a commitment.

For example, one of the names on the list is Barbara Ivanov, chief operating officer for the University of Washington’s Urban Freight Lab. But in an email to GeekWire, Ivanov said “we decided not to proceed with this one.”

On the other hand, the King County Department of Assessments is still interested in the program.

“It is proposed for a very narrow use — to document destroyed property in a disaster/emergency to ensure property owners can receive a destroyed-property tax exemption,” chief deputy assessor Al Dams explained in an email sent to GeekWire. “In particular, we would use drones in cases where it is not safe for our employees to document the damage.”

Among the more than 60 Washington state entities and individuals on the list are:

  • Seattle Parks and Recreation.
  • Tukwila Police Department.
  • The cities of Bremerton, Kelso and Yakima.
  • KING 5 TV.
  • The Sauk-Seattle Indian Tribe.
  • Spokane-based Avista Utilities.

The largest proportion of corporate registrants, in Washington and across the nation, are companies that are involved in drone operations and video production. And there are lots of individuals, such as Mehmet Bozyel, who has a UW email address but told GeekWire that he’s simply looking for a way to fly his DJI Mavic Pro quadcopter in areas of Seattle that are typically “no-drone zones.”

It’ll be up to the FAA to decide whether Seattle gets in on the first round of drone experiments, sometime in the next few months. But even the interested-parties list suggests there’ll be lots of competition. City and airport officials from Philadelphia, Dallas, Las Vegas and Los Angeles are on the list. So is Boeing HorizonX, the aerospace company’s venture capital arm. (The contact phone number has an Illinois area code, so it’s not clear whether HorizonX counts as a Washington state applicant.)

And KING 5 is by no means the only media company on the list: CNN and USA Today are on there, too. Hmmm … Hey, KING 5: Is it too late to let GeekWire join your drone home team?

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