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However Amazon still faces strict restrictions, like the demand that it only operates drones with a clear line of sight

After years of procrastination, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally rolled out its long awaited drafted elucidating what restrictions commercial and hobbyist drone operators might face.  The rules didn't include the strict flight experience requirements seen in earlier leaked drafts, which commercial operators and hobbyists alike feared might have required drone operators to log flight time inside full-size piloted aircraft.

However, the draft included strict altitude (no higher than 500 ft / 152.4 m), speed (no faster than 100 mph / ~161 km/h), and weight (no heavier than 55 lb / 25 kg) restrictions.  Other requirements included:
  • Pilots must maintain
  • No flights at night.
  • No flights over uninvolved third parties.
  • Pilot must maintain line of sight and be close enough to spot other aircraft that might be coming on a collision course with the small UAV.
Prime Air

Those rules appeared to effectively scuttle any chance of Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN) deploying its Prime Air fleet of parcel delivery drones.  And to make matters worst, Amazon request for a research permit to test its Prime Air drones lay seemingly forgotten in the FAA's filing system.

But with Amazon threatening to move its drone research and testing overseas at the price of American jobs, the FAA finally made a concilliatory gesture granting Amazon its requested "experimental airworthiness certificate."

Amazon -- drone fleet
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos examines his drone fleet with Charlie Rose on a special 60 Minutes unveil. [Image Source: CBS]

The bad news for Amazon is that the FAA didn't shown any sign of willingness to relax its proposed line of sight (LoS) restriction or its embargo on nightime flying.  In fact in some regards the experimental license is even stricter, requiring the drone operator to have "at least a private pilot's certificate."

The FAA also lowers the flight ceiling to 400 ft / 122 m.

Amazon FAA
[Image Source: Kezi.com]

In return for its blessing for very limited commercial flight testing, the FAA is also demanding that its certificate holders like Amazon share their logs and data to help agency researchers better study usage patterns,  dangers, and agility of small UAVs.

Amazon is playing along -- for now.  But unless the FAA adopts a more relaxed set of restrictions regarding drone deliveries by trained operators, than the U.S. may find itself one of the only developed countries to lack the perk for just-in-time drone deliveries.  The FAA is right about one thing at least -- the dangers of small drones crashing into homes, people, or other aircraft is a very real concern.  But if the FAA opts to overreach there's also a very real and present danger of stifling innovation.

Sources: FAA [pres release], via The Verge





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