Wal-Mart asks for permission to fly drones

Wal-Mart asks for permission to fly drones
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Wal-Mart is asking the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for permission to fly drones, according to a Reuters report

The retail giant wants to test drones for deliveries, curbside pickup and warehouse inspections, according to the report. 

The request follows similar efforts to win clearance to use drones for deliveries by online retailer Amazon.  

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Wal-Mart says drones can change the way it does business in its stores and online, according to the report. 

"Drones have a lot of potential to further connect our vast network of stores, distribution centers, fulfillment centers and transportation fleet," Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Toporek told Reuters. "There is a Walmart within five miles of 70 percent of the U.S. population, which creates some unique and interesting possibilities for serving customers with drones."

Wal-Mart is the latest company to request permission to use drones for deliveries. The FAA is in the process of developing regulations for allowing a rapid expansion of the use of commercial drones in the U.S.

Police and other law enforcement groups are also seeking approval to use the technology, and the FAA has investigated several drone incidents where operators took photographs at college and professional sporting events.

Congress required the FAA to legalize drones by Sept. 30 in a funding bill for the agency that was passed in 2012, but the FAA missed the deadline.

The agency has said it is still in the process of crafting regulations for increased use of the devices alongside commercial airplanes, and it has touted the approval of more than 2,000 individual drone flights in the interim.

The FAA is allowed to grant drone exemptions under a section of law giving the Transportation Department the authority to drop a requirement that operators of the technology apply for a certificate of airworthiness normally required for flights that are formally considered aircraft. 

The definition of drones as aircraft under the FAA's proposed rules has riled recreational operators of the devices who consider themselves hobbyists, not pilots. 

The FAA’s rules define small drones as devices that weigh less than 55 pounds and require them to be operated at heights under 500 feet and speeds less than 100 miles per hour.

The proposed regulations also call for drone flights to be limited to daytime hours and conducted only by U.S. residents who are older than 17. 

Drone advocates have complained that the exemptions the FAA is issuing for the devices are less effective than finalizing rules for a widespread expansion.