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02/24/2015

Failure to Launch: Amazon's Drones Grounded

Amazon's plan to begin delivering customer orders via unmanned drone took a huge step backwards last week when the FAA released its latest proposed rules for drone operation. Under the new proposed regulations drones can only be flown within eyesight of the operator, which would make their use as a commercial delivery vehicle impossible.

 The online giant has been making headlines for over a year after its announcement during the 2013 Thanksgiving Weekend that it was exploring and developing a drone delivery fleet. The "Prime Air" service currently has development centers in the U.S., U.K., and Israel, but if the new proposed regulations are enacted the U.S. arm of the project will likely never make it off the ground.

The highlights of the FAA's proposed rules on unmanned flight include:
  • Operators must remain visual line of sight with the aircraft
  • Aircraft cannot be flown over bystanders
  • Aircraft must weigh less than 55 pounds
  • Daylight-only operation
  • Maximum altitude of 500 feet
  • No person may operate more than one aircraft at a time
  • Operators would need to be at least 17 years old, pass a FAA knowledge test, and be vetted by the TSA
Amazon is still committed to its Prime Air project and will continue to develop the service and is pushing the FAA to redraft its proposed regulations.

“The FAA needs to begin and expeditiously complete the formal process to address the needs of our business, and ultimately our customers,” Paul Misener, Amazon vice-president of global public policy, said in a statement to the Guardian. “We are committed to realizing our vision for Prime Air and are prepared to deploy where we have the regulatory support we need.”

At this point the proposals are not final and the agency is seeking input from Amazon and other interested parties. The public will be able to comment on the proposed regulation for 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register. “We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules,” FAA administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. “We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry.”