Google skirted drone test rules by using a deal with NASA

Getting an FAA exemption to operate commercial drones in American airspace is almost more trouble than it's worth, what with the litany of requirements and restrictions. That's why Google, according to a Guardian report, has been sidestepping those FAA rules and testing its Project Wing UAV over private US land for more than a year. Google apparently leveraged NASA's Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA), which allows government agencies to operate UAVs but prohibits commercial use, as part of a joint project the two organizations are working on. What's more, COAs specify that any public agency operating a drone must either own it or be its exclusive operator. That would mean that the Mountain View company either "sold" NASA a Wing prototype or is relying exclusively on NASA pilots to fly the drones.

COAs differ from a commercial waiver (commonly called a "333 exemption", after its FAA rule section) like the one that Amazon recently received. Google, though it maintains that it has done nothing improper, did apply for its own 333 exemption last week just in case the FAA decides to call shenanigans on this scheme.

The Guardian also got its hands on a Space Act Agreement stating that, "Nasa and Google will conduct joint field tests of UASs ...where Nasa may issue certificates of approvals to operate." These tests are reportedly will be held along a remote stretch of privately owned land in Merced, California -- again with NASA's assistance. The trials could last upwards of six months and will be exploring the use of cellular signals as an air traffic control system. Hopefully the FAA will have worked through its 1,500 application commercial waiver backlog by the time Project Wing is ready to get off the ground.

[Image Credit: Google]