Drone delivery crashes to earth under new FAA regs

New Federal Aviation Administration regulations could make drone delivery services like Amazon's Prime Air unable to run successfully.


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The dream of having a drone bring you pizza will need to be put on hold a little longer.

New Federal Aviation Administration regulations on small drones allow drones to carry packages or property, but the limits are so strict, it makes a drone-based delivery service all-but impossible. For now, companies interested in delivery will need to depend on waivers and exemptions just to test it.

According to the new rules released Monday, unmanned aircraft systems – small drones – must be flown in sight of the operator, weigh less than 55 pounds, cannot be flown over people, and can only fly during the day.

[Read more: FAA finalizes first-time rules on small commercial drones]

For companies like Amazon, Google, and other drone start-ups, who all depend on remotely controlling drones out of sight, this makes their planned services illegal.

But don’t lose hope — with FAA’s support of continued research, drone experts and companies are working closely with the agency and Congress to strike a balance between safety and free use, said Tom McMahon, vice president of advocacy and public affairs for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. McMahon said he expects the FAA to address many of the industry’s complaints in the next set of rules, such as the line of sight rule.

“Although we want to be able to see beyond the line of sight, this is a great first step for drones overall,” he said.

FAA has not allowed drone delivery because it still wants to continue to ensure drones do not cause any safety issues with airplanes or civilians, an FAA spokesman told FedScoop. FAA is currently working on researching ways to improve aircraft control outside of line of sight, visibility, and night-time piloting. FAA also runs the Pathfinder Program, which is developing technology to detect and identify when drones fly too close to airports.

“We have a lot of research and pathfinder activities that are under way,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said during a press call Monday. “The department is working cooperatively with the industry and as part of our staged integration process…what we need is to be able to ensure it can be safely done.”

The FAA will also offer waivers and exemptions for those who want to go beyond the rules. If companies can prove its technology is reliably safe, the FAA said they could fly more than 55 pounds or without a line of sight, for example.

These rules would also hurt Flirtey, the first-ever company to have FAA approval to test drone delivery in an urban setting. In a statement, the company said it wanted the limits to line of sight and flying over people and within sight of the operator removed.

“The FAA should create these regulations for a tier of companies with the strongest track records — differentiating between the commercial drone companies applying the most stringent safety standards and the best technology to drone operations to save lives and change lifestyles,” Flirtey said in a statement.

Contact the reporter on this story via email: Jeremy.Snow@FedScoop.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeremyM_Snow. Sign up for the Daily Scoop — all the federal IT news you need in your inbox every morning — here: fdscp.com/sign-me-on.

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Department of Transportation, Departments, Drones / UAS, emerging technology, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Government IT News, Innovation, Regulations & Oversight, Tech
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