FAA's Recent Drone Testing Permit Too Little, Too Late, Says Amazon
The FAA is currently accepting public comments through April 24 on new rules it proposed back in February that would regulate such unmanned aircraft systems, including drones that are proposed for use by Amazon. The public comment period opened on Feb. 23. The 48 companies that have been granted permission for experiments by the FAA so far have received exemptions to begin their studies before the proposed new FAA rules are in place for UAS devices. So far, it is still early in the FAA's process to propose, review and finalize rules in the controversial area of drones. Critics of drones cite concerns about privacy, potential interference with commercial and private air traffic, terrorism worries and more, while supporters argue that drones could open new avenues of commerce, logistics and potential services that have not yet even been identified. Back in December 2013, Amazon said it had begun working on a drone-based delivery system that it hoped to use in the next few years to deliver packages to customers' doorsteps in 30 minutes or less, according to an earlier eWEEK report. At the time, Amazon said those future deliveries could be made using what it called a "Prime Air Octocopter," which had four thin metal legs and eight small, horizontally spinning helicopter blades that made it look like a large robotic stink bug. The drone was about the size of a medium-size dog and grabbed and carried its package off to its destination, according to the company's description at the time. Amazon predicted back then that it would be ready to set its Octocopters in flight by 2015, but it is still waiting for the FAA to create and finalize the rules that could one day enable such delivery methods.The proposed new rules also require operators to minimize risks to other aircraft and people and property on the ground by always watching for and avoiding manned aircraft. If there is a risk of collision, the UAS operator must be the first to maneuver away, the proposed rules state. In addition, a UAS pilot must discontinue a flight when continuing would pose a hazard to other aircraft, people or property and will not be permitted to fly over people, except those directly involved with the flight. Flights would be limited to a 500-foot altitude and speeds no faster than 100 mph under the proposals.
Under FAA rules, a small UAS must weigh less than 55 pounds, while there are also potential provisions for an additional, more flexible framework for "micro" UAS devices that weigh less than 4.4 pounds, according to the agency.