Amazon has long teased the possibility of delivering its packages by drone. So far, federal regulations have made that next to impossible.

Now, Amazon has found a new place to test its  ambitious plan: The United Kingdom. According to a press release, the Seattle-based company has partnered with the U.K. government to help make packages delivered by small aircraft a reality there. 

In the release, Amazon's vice president of global innovation Paul Misener cites the retail giant's goal of being able to deliver packages in under 30 minutes. "The U.K. is charting a path forward for drone technology that will benefit consumers, industry and society," he said. There's no timeline yet on when the program will begin.

Regulations limit the ways drones can be used in the United States, both recreationally and commercially. Not long after Jeff Bezos revealed plans for Amazon Prime Air service in 2013, the FAA began working on a proposed set of official rules for drones. In April 2015, Misener sent a letter to the FAA on behalf of Amazon, saying, "Overly prescriptive restrictions are likely to have the unintended effect of stifling innovation." In fact, Amazon spent $9.4 million lobbying for drone delivery in the U.S. in 2015.

Despite the retailer's efforts, in June, the FAA released an updated set of strict rules that go into effect beginning next month. The rules state that any unmanned aircraft must weight less than 55 lbs. and remain within sight of the flyer at all times. The devices also cannot ascend above 400 feet and can be flown only in daylight. 

Recreational drone sales have exploded in recent years. A recent New York Times report estimates that 2.8 million drones will be sold in the U.S. in 2016--double the number sold in 2015. Those drones are all subject to the FAA's new rules.

If Amazon's program is a success in the U.K.--and proves to be safe--it's possible it could be the proof of concept the FAA needs to loosen its rules. Until that happens, much of the innovation in the growing drone industry may be grounded.

Published on: Jul 26, 2016