Sorry Amazon, Delivery Drones Still Grounded Under New FAA Rules

February 15, 2015 Updated: February 15, 2015

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed a new set of rules that would legalize the use of drones for a wide-range of business purposes Sunday, but still restrict drones from delivery purposes by companies like Amazon.

The rules, which are expected to go into effect no earlier than 2017, would legalize previously banned commercial drone activities like crop-spraying or filming. However, delivery operations effectively outlawed by a clause that requires the pilot to remain within line-of-sight of the drone.

“The FAA’s proposed rules for small UAS [Unmanned Aircraft Systems] could take one or two years to be adopted and, based on the proposal, even then those rules wouldn’t allow Prime Air to operate in the United States,” Paul Misener, vice president of public policy at Amazon, said in a statement. “We are committed to realizing our vision for Prime Air and are prepared to deploy where we have the regulatory support we need.”

Amazon’s drone delivery service will likely start outside of the United States, where drone delivery has already become a reality. In September, DHL started delivering medicine via drones in Germany.

This proposed rule is a critical milestone in the UAS integration process, and one that is long overdue
— AUVSI CEO Brian Wynne

Flexible Requirements

The rules provide a general guideline for commercial drone activities: they must weight less than 55 pounds, stay below an altitude of 55 feet, fly only from sunrise to sunset, and at less than 100 miles per hour. Pilots must be at least 17 years old, pass a knowledge test, and be vouchsafed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The drone must also not fly “over any persons not directly involved in the operation,” although no altitude is specified for what constitutes “flying over.”

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) applauded the long-awaited rule proposals.

“This proposed rule is a critical milestone in the UAS integration process, and one that is long overdue,” AUVSI CEO Brian Wynne said in a statement. “UAS technology has largely remained grounded while many prospective users wait for the regulatory framework to catch up.”

The FAA will open up the proposals for 60 days of public comment, and has stressed that the rules are not final. FAA Secretary Anthony Foxx said at a teleconference that the agency was still studying drones that were remotely piloted, and individual exemptions from the rules were not out of the question.

Amazon requested an exemption from FAA regulations in June of 2014 to no avail, and said in a letter in December that it plans to move some of its testing operations outside of the United States because of onerous restrictions.