Despite the FAA passing regulations that allow the use of drones for commercial purposes, these regulations do not allow Amazon to implement drones for delivery.  As told in a commercial by Jeremy Clarkson—former host of Top Gear—Amazon envisions a world in which a drone can ship a new soccer cleat just in time for a girl’s big game.  All she has to do is have her Dad order it on Amazon, and a drone only 15 minutes away will land in her back yard with the cleat.  This is not likely to be a reality any time soon in the United States.  The most recent drone regulations passed by the FAA require that commercial drones stay in visual line of sight to the operator.  This rule forbids the use of Amazon’s “sense and avoid technology” that is essential to its plan for drone delivery.  Despite aggressive lobbying for less restrictive drone regulations, Amazon did not succeed.

In response to these restrictive regulations, Amazon has set up new business relationships with Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Israel.  The most promising and expansive of these relationships is with the UK.  Unlike the U.S., the UK has reached an agreement with Amazon to allow more expansive drone testing.  In the U.S., Amazon can only test their drones line of site capabilities.  The UK has allowed Amazon to employ their “sense and avoid” technology in which an amazon prototype can fly up to 10 miles or more without requiring a line of site visual connection from its operator. As a result of this testing, the UK has urged other drone companies to test in the UK as well.  As America sits idly by on the sidelines, the UK is seizing on benefits of drones on the economy.

However, China’s regulation of drones (or lack thereof) signals that the FAAs caution may be justified.  Unregulated drone use has caused a blackout in a small village of China due to a collision with power lines and in another incident a drone collided with a descending airliner jet. While China has imposed some regulations to make drone flight safer, these incidents exhibit the safety risks posed by unregulated drone use.  The UK, on the other hand, has proposed a workable middle ground.  The UK would allow the use of sense and avoid technology during testing to avoid the dangers faced by China once employed.  The FAA should adopt the UK’s cautious but forward looking approach in allowing drones to develop with the economy.

Pete Bauleke


One Response to The U.S. is Losing the Economic Drone War

  1. tjohnson says:

    Interesting post. Regarding the FAA regulation, does the “line of sight” requirement depend on weather visibility? I also wonder if there is a possibility for Amazon (and other commercial drone users) to employ its sense and avoid technology at a certain altitude to comply with FAA regulations. Depending on what “line of sight” means, an operator may be able to deploy a drone several miles while maintaining line-of-sight if (1) visibility is clear and (2) the drone’s altitude is low enough.