When the FAA announced their new commercial drone rules, there was no provision made for using drones for delivery purposes. This left everyone, including myself, thinking that they were leaving out plans by Amazon and Google to use drones for package delivery out in the proverbial cold. But in what is maybe a reaction from news that the European Union was going to allow commercial package delivery by drone, has the FAA had a change of heart? Well, kinda… sort of… maybe?
Under the provisions of the certificate, all flight operations must be conducted at 400 feet or below during daylight hours in visual meteorological conditions. The UAS must always remain within visual line-of-sight of the pilot and observer. The pilot actually flying the aircraft must have at least a private pilot’s certificate and current medical certification. – FAA Announcement about Amazon Drone Delivery testing
Here’s the story: The FAA did announce that Amazon will be able to test drone their 30-minute “Prime Air” delivery within the United States, however, there’s one HUGE “but ….” Amazon may not do so with “meaningful or innovative” technologies. In other words, Amazon must act under the same commercial drone rules as everyone else operating drones at a profit, and that means pilots, certified for flight, keeping the drones within line of site, under 400 feet, and during day light hours only.
“(The new FAA certification for Amazon) will prevent Amazon from actually delivering packages over any kind of appreciable distance.” – Jason Koebler Motherboard,
Originally, Amazon’s concept video touted a completely autonomous, GPS driven system where unmanned aerial vehicles would leave fulfillment centers with package, fly to the addresses within 10 miles of their warehouses, drop off packages and fly back for more … all without a drone operator handling it. This means that UPS truck drivers will have to become drone certified and will have to load and fly those drones short distances, within their sight, deliver and return.
In addition, the FAA will require Amazon to file monthly reports on the number of delivery flights conducted, what software and other malfunctions had occurred, and be up to date on all requirements pertaining to airworthiness certification, something that would put an undue burden on test vehicles during this period. In other words, the drone delivery option under such rules would be completely worthless.
I’m sure there are safety concerns. However, I submit that an autonomous system, much like the one that Google employees in cars that map the world would be far more safe. To date, Google has only had two accidents with cars, and according to Google, that was because the human operator/occupant took manual control at the time of the accident. So I have to think that after sufficient and exhaustive testing of an autonomous system, a similar safety record is a reasonable assumption. But it only takes on 2 pound package plummeting to earth and killing someone to disprove that whole theory. So better safe than sorry.
That leaves the worry about jobs. You can imagine that the Package Division of the Teamsters Union, and it’s 250,000 union member working at UPS and UPS Freight, would be concerned that such a system could take a big chunk of those jobs. And as such, have would have pushed for restrictive provisions that would prevent the technology from going where it wants to go. And yet, the FAA even given Amazon a ray of light to test drone delivery is a big deal. The only question is, can Amazon work within that narrow envelope and make it practical and affordable.
Hat Tip – Popular Science