Remember when Amazon got people all excited when it announced that it would soon offer deliveries by drone? At the time, GFR reported that 2015 was the absolute soonest Amazon would be able to implement their ambitious project, and it looks like even that was optimistic. The FAA, which has grounded all commercial drone operations (including this awesome beer-delivering one) has put another wrench in Amazon’s plans when it released a document earlier this week seeking public comment on its interpretation of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which right now holds that any model aircraft that “endanger the safety of the National Airspace System” are subject to enforcement action by the FAA.
Drones are considered “model aircraft” for the purposes of interpreting and applying this legislation. The FAA wants people to submit “written comments, data, or views concerning this interpretation” and will “consider all comments received” and may “modify this interpretation based on comments received.” It may seem strange that the FAA would be seeking the public’s input, but they have received so many questions about the applicability of the Act to drones and model aircraft that they wanted to be clear and specific about how, why, and which laws apply.
Since 2007, the FAA has considered any commercial drone operation illegal, despite some appeals and challenges. In March, a judge ruled that the FAA’s enforcement of those laws, including levying fines, was illegal because, according to federal law, the FAA must consider public input before adopting and enacting such laws. The decision is under appeal, but the recently released document clearly attempts to follow the dictate of the ruling.
The FAA has long been promising to figure out regulations for commercial drones this year, with the hopes of actually putting rules in place by 2015. Because of its call for comments, that process will likely be delayed, and their position against drones for commercial use is unlikely to change until the process has concluded, and may not change even after that. Those who have opposed the ban on commercial drones think that this is just another tactic to stall the operation of model aircraft.
The FAA specifically mentioned Amazon’s drone delivery proposal as an example of prohibited drone uses. Only recreational use of drones, with stipulations about flying them — or rather, not flying them — in populated areas, are currently allowed. Even if shipping is free, as it is with Amazon Prime, delivery drones would still be operating under the auspices of Amazon business, which constitutes commercial operations.
Honestly, this isn’t surprising. I don’t think Amazon’s drone delivery will ever get off the ground, largely due to flight paths that would be almost entirely in urban areas. But that’s for the best, I think. Amazon already has our personal information socked away — does it really need our real-time GPS coordinates too?