Drone-to-door delivery still far away despite FAA proposal

(image by John Loo

By Cale Jones

Under recent pressure from companies like Amazon, the Federal Aviation Administration has proposed new rules for commercial drones. The proposal allows for drones up to 55 pounds to fly within the sight of their pilots during daylight. The rules also establish a speed limit of 100 miles per hour and a maximum altitude of 500 feet. The proposal establishes a minimum age of 17 years and requires a test administered by the FAA. However, requirements like flight hours will not be necessary for a private pilot’s license.[1]

The proposal is now in its public notice and comment period where the FAA has asked for 60 days. However, comments have to be analyzed, incorporated, and feedback given before the rules are complete – a process that could take over a year.

While Amazon has been pushing for new rules in hopes of unveiling its drone delivery service for Amazon Prime members, this new proposal does not move the company anywhere towards its goal. The biggest obstacle is the requirement of the drone to remain within a pilot’s line of sight, obviously limiting the functional range of any delivery service. Amazon’s most likely comment of the rule is to put forth their own studies regarding the use of on-board cameras to pilot the machines, but the company isn’t giving up its efforts to lobby the FAA. Amazon Vice-President for global public policy Paul Misener has said in a statement, “The FAA needs to begin and expeditiously complete the formal process to address the needs of our business, and ultimately our customers… We are committed to realizing our vision for Prime Air and are prepared to deploy where we have the regulatory support we need.”

The FAA is struggling to keep up with an emerging industry, and the lack of regulation might be slowing innovation. Intel has just released that it has developed a technology that allows drones to sense and avoid obstacles automatically while flying to a pre-programmed set of coordinates. Perhaps a combination of this to alert pilots with on-board cameras might be sufficient for the FAA, but no known sales or commercial use of the technology exist yet.

[1] http://www.faa.gov/news/press_releases/news_story.cfm?newsId=18295

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