Back in 2013, Amazon’s CEO appeared on ‘60 minutes’ in order to present to the world the company’s innovative idea of using an actual drone to deliver their customer’s products right at their doorstep! This exciting, hi-tech delivery system was named ‘Amazon Prime Air’, and it seemed to have come right out of a sci-fi film!
Amazon’s ‘Prime Air’ project seemed very ambitious, since it promised swift, safe deliveries for parcels under 5 pounds, which should be small enough to fit inside the small unmanned aerial vehicle’s storage, in only 30 minutes! This amazing technological breakthrough would be available to all customers who lived within a 10 mile radius of an Amazon center or affiliated store.
There was only one problem, unmanned aerial vehicles were not yet legal in the US. Even though the technology existed and was ready to be tested, the law system was falling behind, and it didn’t seem to pick up the pace until March 2015, when the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally gave Amazon permission to initiate testing using a specific drone. That model, however, had already become obsolete by then, as the FAA took more than 6 months to approve of the testing! “We don’t test it anymore. We’ve moved on to more advanced designs that we already are testing abroad” said Amazon’s vice president, and, even after he FAA eventually gave the company permission to fly a newer model within the Continental US (one month later), he stated that the rule set applied by the agency was “more restrictive than the rules and approvals by which [Amazon] conducted outdoor testing in the UK and elsewhere”.
The FAA, realising that it should pick up the pace regarding drone permits, decided to create a blanket flying permission, according to which all unmanned vehicles that weighed 55 pounds or less, which would fly below 200 ft at all times during the daylight hours and remained well away from airports, were eligible for a permit.
Recently, Amazon demanded that the US Federal Government started working on a legal system that would ‘lay the law’ regarding the issue of commercial drone flight regulations, in order to avoid having to deal with each and every state’s take on the matter. In response, Michael Whitaker, the FAA Deputy Administrator announced that the regulations regarding the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles will “be in place within a year”!
Amazon’s stance seems rather logical, especially if we take into account the company’s past inability to follow various state tax legislations, which were apparently too ‘confusing’ for them; an offense for which the company offered various (unsuccessful) explanations!
It would certainly be nice for companies who are looking to work with commercial drones to only have a clear-cut, stable set of laws to operate under, since that would save them lots of time – and money! However it’s not really impossible to conform to specific state regulations; sure, it would take a bit more legwork, but it could be done, technically.
Besides, state regulations seem more appropriate when it comes to drone delivery systems. They are required to operate within a 10 mile radius from base, which makes them more of a ‘local’ issue. The rules that work for one place might not work for another, since cities vary greatly in size and layout, not to mention that some people are more receptive to high tech gadgets, whereas others are more wary of them. It’s great to have a nice, hot pizza delivered promptly at your doorstep, but it’s an entirely different issue to have a drone fitted with a camera hovering outside your children’s window!