In the not-too-distant future, Amazon could use a drone to deliver a package from a country warehouse all the way to…a nearby farm.
And that, the government said on Tuesday, is about it.
The [new] regulations mark the government’s first explicit efforts to define the commercial uses for the horde of small, plastic, buzzing aircraft that are invading America’s skies. While consumers have flocked to the miniature aircraft, US businesses say the problem for them is not technology. Amazon and Google, for instance, have shown prototype delivery drones that could eliminate the need for shipping via post or UPS.
Executives say the holdup is a web of unclear regulation.
The combined drone and package still has to weigh less than 55lb. The drones cannot fly over anyone not involved in the transaction and cannot fly out of sight of the pilot. That isn’t exactly what Amazon had in mind with its famous demo video of a drone touching down on a suburban driveway.
The government said on Tuesday that Amazon had taken particular issue with its requirement to have one pilot for each drone. “Amazon asserted that the proposed restriction is based on the flawed premise that small UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] must be operated under constant manual control,” the FAA’s filing said.
The government said Google, meanwhile, argued for the ability to “present a safety case” for instances where they want to be able to fly drones over
The debate doesn’t appear to be entirely about safety.
The Teamsters labor union, whose membership includes truck drivers, has lobbied against letting pilots control fleets of multiple drones
“…until there is technological certainty that no workers, or the general public, would be at risk from automated package delivery.”
In fact there really isn’t a confusing web of regulations. No one who follows the industry is the least bit surprised that Part 107 does not provide for delivery by Amazon, Google, Walmart or anyone else. The FAA has been more than clear that such services depend on the maturation of a number of technologies, most notably UTM which is needed to orchestrate the low altitude airspace drones will utilize and eliminate the possibility of interference with the NAS.
What is noteworthy about this story is that the looming impact of robotics and artificial intelligence on organized labor is rearing it’s pointy little head. (One of the first times I have seen it.) I can assure you that it will absolutely not be the last. Look for the issue to gain momentum around the deployment of autonomous vehicles long before drones.
Nothing brings this into sharper focus than Daimler’s stunning proof-of-concept demonstration in which a ‘platoon’ of three autonomous tractor trailers roared down the Autobahn from Stuttgart to Rotterdam – a distance of just over 600 klicks – in tight formation. If you haven’t seen the video, now is a good time to spend a couple of minutes getting your idea of the future recalibrated.
The video will make it easier for you to imagine fleets of autonomous trucks leaving ports, warehouses and railheads to criss-cross America. No breaking the speed limit, no staying up long nights to make up time on various controlled substances, no extra costs for overtime. No more good paying jobs. This will be a classic example of disintermediation with huge economic consequences.
In case you’re wondering – under Part 107 “No person may act as a remote pilot in command or VO for more than one unmanned aircraft operation at one time.” So while it will happen soon, it won’t happen now. As for the trucks – that’s a different blog post.
It interesting to note that in the FAA’s Part 107 III. Discussion of the Final Rule, C. Applicability, 1. Transporting Property for Compensation (Air Carrier Operations) they noted that:
“Commenters including NAAA [National Agricultural Aviation Association], International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and ALPA supported the proposed prohibition on carrying property for compensation. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters stated that weakening the regulations before “package delivery technologies” are proven safe and reliable could endanger not only the public but also the warehouse and operational staff involved in the loading and maintenance of small UAS. ALPA stated that until there is a demonstrated safety record for UAS air carrier operations, the Department should not authorize such operations.”