Back in December, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the company’s latest attempt to bring science fiction to reality, and products to our doorsteps at an even faster pace. The project, known as Prime Air, would use unmanned aerial vehicles for delivery. The Amazon drones, we were told, would deliver packages in as little as 30 minutes from the time that the order was placed.
The “octocopters” were described as still in the research and development phase. While not quite ready for commercial use yet, Bezos assured us that the technology required for the Amazon drones would be ready as soon as the necessary regulations were in place. This was estimated to happen within about five years.
However, a policy document released by the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday may have effectively grounded the Amazon drones. The document is really focused on “model aircraft” and set guidelines for their acceptable use. “Acceptable use”, for these craft is deemed to be restricted to “recreational or hobby purposes”, and apparently the Amazon drones won’t be included.
The FAA had already declared that commercial drones were not legal back in 2007. But in March of this year, a Federal Court struck down that ruling, saying that the FAA had not acted legally when enacting those regulations. They had not allowed for public input before passing the rules, which is a requirement of federal law.
For the moment, though, the FAA is holding a hard line on the matter, and it’s questionable whether the Amazon drones will actually ever fly.
They’ve referred any “model aircraft hobbyists” to a document containing
“Dos and Don’ts” of Hobby / Recreational Flying. It’s pretty clear what they’re allowing, which only includes safe use of these crafts for personal enjoyment.
It’s the “dont’s”, however, that seem to really clarify their intention. Unmanned craft should not be flown beyond the line of sight of the operator. And the last “don’t” couldn’t be more specific: “Don’t fly model aircraft for payment or commercial purposes”. That sure sounds like the Amazon drones.
Of course, there are other uses which the current ruling will prohibit. Essentially, one can use drones for such activities as photography, and even carrying cargo, but not if those efforts are for money-making purposes.
The FAA’s policy has likely been influenced by the increasing number of incidents of unmanned crafts flying dangerously close to either airports or passenger planes. Based on these serious safety concerns, regulations will certainly have to be established.
And the technology may have some real advantages, especially in comparison to other methods of delivery through already overcrowded city traffic.
So it seems unlikely that Amazon and other corporations who see a new way to transact business will take this ruling lying down. We can expect to see legal challenges which will probably be an ongoing battle.
I’ll be watching this story carefully as it further unfolds, and will keep you updated when we know more about the parameters within which Amazon drones and other unmanned delivery methods will be allowed to operate.
Website: Amazon Prime Air
FAA Policy Document: Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft