FAA Permits Amazon to Test-Fly Delivery Drones With Usual Restrictions

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2015-03-22 Print this article Print
Amazon Drones

"From AOPA's perspective, we think that the exemption requirements protect the safety of manned flight, ensure that UAS [unmanned aircraft system] operations are conducted away from airports and outside of what is considered navigable airspace for manned aircraft. Also, these limited operations provide valuable data as the FAA develops its regulations for commercial use of small UAS."

For those who have been licensed and have flown aircraft, the rules make good sense. Part of the process of learning to be a pilot involves learning to handle an aircraft in flight, of course, but there's a lot more to it than that. Pilots are tested on the laws involving flying aircraft, the impact of the weather on flight, safety rules and emergency procedures.

Then they must pass a test that demonstrates their knowledge. While the demands aren't excessively rigorous, they are tough, and they're tough for a reason. The safety of everyone in the vicinity of the aircraft is dependent on the pilot's ability to do what he or she has been trained to do.

The much criticized rule that the pilot have line of sight visibility with the drone is a very good example. While it's nice to believe that any aircraft, including a drone, exists in the sky by itself, this simply isn't the case.

Up there in the air are any number of birds, bats and bugs along with airplanes and other drones. It's the pilot's job to avoid hitting any of those and if the drone does hit something, to land it as safely as possible.

With the pilot able to see the drone while it's in flight, it's also possible to make sure that there's nothing out there to run into, or if there is, to avoid it. The same isn't true of a video camera, which looks only in one direction at a time and can't readily swivel around in the way a pilot's head does when flying.

The requirement to see and be seen is a critical part of aviation, which is why those airliners you see as they fly by all seem to have strobe lights on them day or night. But while you can mount a strobe on a drone, the rest of the mix is harder to accomplish. How is an autonomous machine going to maintain situational awareness?

There are a lot of drone apologists who complain that these rules will prevent commercial drones from taking flight. It's worth noting that those apologists seem to have vested interests in seeing the drone business take off sooner rather than later. But the fact is that drone aviation needs to be at least as safe as any other kind.

Eventually, Amazon and other would-be commercial drone operators will get their approvals for commercial operations, but that won't happen until they prove they can do it safely. If that means that your drone-delivered box of microwave popcorn will have to wait, so be it.



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