By: Sophie Brasseux,
Along with Super Bowl LI came typical array of Super Bowl ads. One ad that got a lot of attention this year belonged to Amazon. Amazon’s ad featured a woman ordering Doritos using her Amazon Echo.[i] As a Prime Air drone shows up with her delivery, a disclaimer airs stating “Prime Air is not available in some states. Yet.” [ii]
After announcing the development of their drone delivery system this past July, Amazon completed their first test of the drones in December in the UK. [iii]
Amazon advertises Prime Air as a system in which drones would be able to get you your package in thirty minutes or less. [iv] Prime Air would be able to deliver packages up to five pounds and would include “sense and avoid” technology for improved safety and reliability.[v] These drones will have vertical take off and landing skills with the ability of reach altitudes of 100 meters and speeds of 100 kph.[vi] Given the costs required to use these drones, they are designed as a “last resort” in Amazon’s “delivery hierarchy.” [vii] So far, Amazon’s website includes videos of these drones as well as a FAQ section mostly about their testing in the UK. [viii]
One might wonder why this U.S. company is testing in the UK. Back in June 2016, The Federal Aviation Administration published new rules, which took effect in late August. [ix] The new FAA rules replaced the temporary restrictions on drone use by companies, which had previously required companies to apply for a special permit in order to use a drone for their business.[x] The rules allow companies to use drones, but include the requirement that the drone be kept within the line of sight of the operator during use. [xi] Another major restriction is that drones are prohibited from being over individuals not involved with the drone operation. [xii] These restrictions directly effect the way in which Amazon had intended to use their Prime Air service, thus they have moved their testing to the UK where there are currently no such restrictions. [xiii]
Regulations also restrict the times of day commercial drones can be used, flight patterns, and height restrictions. [xiv] Additionally, in order to operate a commercial drone, the FAA requires a remote pilot certificate or a student private pilot’s license, neither of which are required to use a drone for personal use. [xv] One notable benefit of the new FAA rules is that commercial operators do not have to go through a legal procedure to obtain FAA permission to operate anymore. [xvi] The Consumer Technology Association has stated the FAA has struck “an appropriate balance of innovation and safety” with their new rules, but “additional steps are needed such as addressing ‘beyond-line-of-sight’ operations, which will be a true game changer.”[xvii]
At this time, it is unclear what next steps Amazon or the FAA plan to take in order to get Air Prime and other commercial drones to be permitted in the United States. Given the current regulations, it is doubtful we will be seeing these drones in the near future, however, given that the technology has already been developed, it simply does seem to be a matter of time until your packages will be delivered via drone.
[i] See Michelle Castillo, One of Amazon’s delivery drones showed up in a Super Bowl ad, CNBC (Feb. 6, 2017), available at http://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/06/amazon-prime-delivery-drone-gets-super-bowl-li-spotlight.html
[ii] See id.
[iii] See id; see also Luke Johnson, 9 things you need to know about the Amazon Prime Air delivery service, Digital Spy (Feb. 7, 2017), available at http://www.digitalspy.com/tech/feature/a820748/amazon-prime-air-drone-delivery-service/.
[iv] Amazon.com, Prime Air, available at https://www.amazon.com/Amazon-Prime-Air/b?ie=UTF8&node=8037720011.
[v] See id.
[vi] See supra note 3.
[vii] See id.
[viii] See supra note 4.
[ix] See Martyn Williams, New FAA rules means you won’t get Amazon drone delivery anytime soon, PCWord, (Jun 21, 2016), available at http://www.pcworld.com/article/3086790/legal/new-faa-rules-mean-you-wont-get-amazon-drone-delivery-anytime-soon.html.
[x] See id.
[xi] See id.
[xii] See id.
[xiii] See id; see supra note 3.
[xiv] See supra note 9.
[xv] See id.
[xvi] See id.
[xvii] See Nat Levy & Todd Bishop, FAA issues final commercial drone rules, restricting flights in setback for Amazon’s delivery ambitions, GeekWire (Jun 21, 2016), available at http://www.geekwire.com/2016/faa-issues-final-commercial-drone-rules-restricting-flights-setback-amazons-delivery-ambitions/.
Image Source: http://www.droneflit.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Amazon-Prime-Air.jpg.