Amazon says it is still committed to delivering products by drone despite new federal rules that it considers an obstacle to commercial use of unmanned aircraft.
Paul Misener, Amazon vice president for global policy, said the new FAA rules “wouldn’t allow Prime Air to operate in the United States.” Prime Air is the name of Amazon’s developmental program for drone delivery.
He called for new rules that would address Amazon’s plan for using drones to deliver packages.
“The FAA needs to begin and expeditiously complete the formal process to address the needs of our business, and ultimately our customers,” he said. “We are committed to realizing our vision for Prime Air and are prepared to deploy where we have the regulatory support we need.”
While much of the drone industry welcomed the FAA rules, companies looking to use drones commercially will face several problems. Under the rules, drones cannot fly over people not involved the drone operations, and the drones must be flown by an observer on the ground who can maintain visual contact with the aircraft.
“That means we really are not talking about unmanned aerial vehicles. We are talking about something that has to have a person. It defeats the whole purpose,” said Michael E. Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) Coalition, of which Amazon, Google and GoPro are members.
The proposal raises questions about the ability of a drone to carry a payload, he said.
“My view is that it could be that what they (FAA officials) are saying is, there is not going to be the opportunity for delivery,” Drobac said.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called for more business-friendly rules. “These FAA rules are a solid first step but need a lot more refining. … The inclusion of the rule that drones must be flown within the operator’s line of sight appears to be a concerning limitation on commercial usage; I urge the FAA to modify that as these rules are finalized.”
Several other countries including Canada, the U.K. and Denmark are using drones commercially.
“We are not catching up with this. … We are still probably going to need an act of Congress,” Drobac said.