FAA grounds Amazon’s drone delivery plans

The Federal Aviation Administration has said that online shopping powerhouse Amazon may not employ drones to deliver packages, at least not anytime soon.

The revelation was buried in a FAA document unveiled Monday seeking public comment on its policy on drones, or what the agency calls “model aircraft.”

The FAA has maintained since at least 2007 that the commercial operation of drones is illegal. A federal judge ruled in March, however, that the FAA enacted the regulations illegally because it did not take public input before adopting the rules, which is a violation of federal law. Flight regulators have appealed the decision, maintaining that commercial applications are still barred.

The agency has promised that it would revisit the commercial application of small drones later this year, with potential new rules in place perhaps by the end of 2015. But for now, the agency is taking a hard line against the commercial use of drones, and it’s unclear whether that policy would change.

Brendan Schulman, the New York lawyer who convinced a federal judge to declare that the FAA is illegally enforcing a commercial ban on drones, lashed out at the FAA’s latest attack on them. “It’s a purported new legal basis telling people to stop operating model aircraft for business purposes,” he said.

In Monday’s announcement, published in the Federal Register, the FAA named Amazon’s December proposal as an example of what is barred under regulations that allow the use of drones for hobby and recreational purposes. The agency did not mention Amazon Prime Air by name, but it didn’t have to.

Under a graphic that says what is barred, the FAA mentioned the “Delivering of packages to people for a fee.” A footnote added, “If an individual offers free shipping in association with a purchase or other offer, FAA would construe the shipping to be in furtherance of a business purpose, and thus, the operation would not fall within the statutory requirement of recreation or hobby purpose.”

Amazon has had its fingers crossed that the agency would change course. But for now, the online shopping behemoth realizes that its delivery methods won’t include drones anytime soon, despite the FAA’s announcement Monday. “Putting Prime Air into commercial use will take some number of years as we advance the technology and wait for the necessary FAA rules and regulations,” Amazon has said.

The FAA document, which comes amid some dangerous incidents involving ground-operated drones, contained a small laundry list of examples of what types of commercial applications are barred, including:

  • Determining whether crops need to be watered that are grown as part of a commercial farming operation
  • A person photographing a property or event and selling the photos to someone else
  • A realtor using a model aircraft to photograph a property that he is trying to sell and using the photos in the property’s real estate listing
  • Receiving money for demonstrating aerobatics with a model aircraft.

Last week, the National Park Service barred all drone flights from its parks. Regulators’ attacks on the commercial use of drones have included everything from drone journalism to a nonprofit search-and-rescue outfit using drones.

via FAA grounds Amazon’s drone delivery plans | Ars Technica.

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