Wal-Mart Seeks FAA Permission for Drone-Delivery Testing

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With the retail giant following drone program development by Amazon and China's Alibaba, the race is on to go airborne.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a Wal-Mart drone, carrying your latest online order – or at least, it could be, if the world’s largest retailer gets its way.

According to a copy of Wal-Mart’s application to the Federal Aviation Administration, which was obtained by MarketWatch, the retail giant is seeking permission from the FAA to begin outdoor tests of delivery drones.

The small, unmanned aircraft would be used for “deliveries to customers at Wal-Mart facilities, as well as to consumer homes,” the application explains. Wal-Mart has been conducting indoor drone tests for the past several months.

Wal-Mart’s move into drone deliveries mirrors that of competitor Amazon, the online retail giant that spearheaded efforts for commercial drone delivery in the United States in 2013. Amazon finally got the green light from the FAA in March to begin testing delivery drones. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba launched drone delivery trials in China in February.

Amazon Prime Air, the company’s drone project, is already well under way. Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos said “one day Prime Air deliveries will be as common as seeing a mail truck.”

The FAA is working on establishing rules for widespread commercial use of drone, Reuters reports. Although companies like Amazon and Wal-Mart can apply for exemptions, commercial drone use is currently illegal, Reuters added. The FAA has allowed more than 2,100 exemptions for commercial drone testing and use.

One thing’s for certain: You won’t see drones making a delivery in your neighborhood anytime soon. Amazon told CNN Money it’s still years away from using unmanned aircraft to deliver consumer packages.

Wal-Mart said it “couldn’t put a time” on when it could launch a drone delivery service. Still, the retail giant is excited about the possibilities of using unmanned aircraft to deliver its packages.

“Wal-Mart is within 5 miles of 70 percent of the U.S. population,” said company spokesperson Brian Nick said. “It creates some interesting possibilities.”

What do you think about having drones make deliveries? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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