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FAA Shifts Policy for Amazon, Allows Drone Delivery Tests

— March 25, 2015

Amazon drone delivery took a step closer to becoming a reality on Thursday, March 19th, when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) softened its 2014 ruling on drone regulations that had essentially put delivery off-limits. The most recent ruling allows Amazon to test drones “for research and development and crew training.” The prior 2014 ruling allowed commercial and hobby drone use only if the drones remain in the line of sight of their operator and cannot fly at more than 100 miles per hour. This made drones useful for aerial photography, real estate purposes, or certain types of exploration, but not delivery. The most recent ruling comes more than a year after Amazon tested its first drone delivery flight, causing the FAA to scramble to write the rulebook.

Even with the March ruling, Amazon executives, while grateful for some progress, are disappointed in the pace of the FAA’s decision-making. In a bit of gamesmanship, Vice President for Global Public Policy, Paul Misener, told a Senate hearing after the ruling that drone delivery had already become obsolete. Claiming the ruling came too late, Misener said that Amazon has already asked the FAA permission to test-fly an advanced  UAS, or Unmanned Aircraft System a week prior, hoping to fast-track a ruling. Misener may have a point however; drone regulations have existed in Canada since 1996, and Australia since 2002.

It is unlikely that Amazon would actually move on so quickly from drone delivery in light of this ruling, even though the company prides itself on innovation. They have invested millions of dollars already in the concept and it is an idea that, while controversial, resonates with the public. While no country yet allows Amazon to conduct drone delivery, the company has filed for permits in Europe as well as having tested delivery drones in India in addition to the U.S. test.

These rules affect me personally. As the former owner of a courier service and logistics expert, I have been interested in starting a drone delivery business in my city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, for several years. I am also a contractor for Amazon Web Services. Success for Amazon and progress in drone legislation is beneficial for me as well.  At the same time, I can’t help but think the recent ruling gives Amazon a jump on any potential competitors and entrepreneurs looking to start their own drone-related ventures. The question is, for how long does Amazon get this advantage, and when is the next step by the FAA to allow more companies to become involved in the industry?

Yahoo – AFP

CNN – CNN Money (New York)

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