Singer notes that small drones are currently illegal to operate in the United States, unless you have a special permit, fly them under 400 feet and are within the operator’s line of sight. Aside from universities, research institutions and a few police forces, the only commercial license for drone flight has been issued for a company surveying the Arctic.
By 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration is required by Congress to have new rules in place governing drones and their integration into commercial airspace. But even big drone supporters say 2015 is too soon to figure out all the potential hiccups.
The FAA is likely going to examine the Amazon delivery video before the company can deliver a package four miles away. Also, flying craft will have to meet some performance characteristics, according to Ben Gielow, government relations manager at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a drone industry trade group based in Arlington, Va.
“There will have to be sense-and-avoid technology so you are sure it won’t crash into other airplanes, some kind of encrypted communications spectrum (and) you will have to have training for pilots. All of that stuff has not yet been established by the FAA,” Gielow said.
Then there’s the question of whether the public is ready for drones on the doorstep. Or whether Amazon will take its drones and start delivering packages somewhere else if the FAA rules take too long. Gielow noted that some European nations are already allowing small drone flights by commercial firms, including one in Switzerland that just made new high-resolution digital maps of the Matterhorn with a few drone aircraft.
“This Amazon announcement helps people understand how the technology could benefit them,” Gielow said. “Right now, folks don’t understand.”
In the meantime, the FAA soon plans to announce the location of six test sites around the country where it will be incorporating both drone and civilian aircraft, according to agency spokeswoman Alison Duquette.