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FAA Bans Delivering Packages With Drones 199

Posted by Soulskill
from the but-it-would-have-been-hilarious dept.
An anonymous reader sends this report from Ars Technica: The Federal Aviation Administration has said that online shopping powerhouse Amazon may not employ drones to deliver packages, at least not anytime soon. The revelation was buried in an FAA document (PDF) unveiled Monday seeking public comment on its policy on drones, or what the agency calls "model aircraft." The FAA has maintained since at least 2007 that the commercial operation of drones is illegal. ... In Monday's announcement, published in the Federal Register, the FAA named Amazon's December proposal as an example of what is barred under regulations that allow the use of drones for hobby and recreational purposes. The agency did not mention Amazon Prime Air by name, but it didn't have to. Under a graphic that says what is barred, the FAA mentioned the "Delivering of packages to people for a fee." A footnote added, "If an individual offers free shipping in association with a purchase or other offer, FAA would construe the shipping to be in furtherance of a business purpose, and thus, the operation would not fall within the statutory requirement of recreation or hobby purpose."
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FAA Bans Delivering Packages With Drones

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    quick... fire all those new "drone engineers".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @02:50PM (#47309013)

    Back to the catapult idea.

    • by Dins (2538550)
      I prefer artillery.
    • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @04:37PM (#47310101)
      Just a couple of months ago, in March, a Federal National Transportation Safety Board Administrative Judge ruled that the FAA does not have legal authority to regulate small low-altitude commercial drones [politico.com].

      FAA seems to be trying to act like Obama, going ahead with policy it already knows to be illegal.
      • ... AND, I should add, on the same day it got smacked down hard by SCOTUS for making policy it knows has no legal authority.
      • Actually, what happened there is that the reporter didn't know what he was talking about and contradicted his opening statement in the 3rd paragraph.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          Actually, what happened there is that the reporter didn't know what he was talking about and contradicted his opening statement in the 3rd paragraph.

          No, he didn't. The judge DID strike down the rule. He then went on to explain that the reasoning the judge used was because it wasn't part of a formal rulemaking process. But it would be a mistake to then assume that if they HAD made it part of a formal rulemaking process, it would automatically be legal!

          This is important: yesterday SCOTUS made it very clear that the FAA does not have authority to regulate things that are not specifically authorized by Congress and signed into law. Their CO2 regulations

          • "The judge DID strike down the rule. He then went on to explain that the reasoning the judge used was because it wasn't part of a formal rulemaking process."

            The opening claim was that the judge said that the FAA was not permitted to make rules in this area while the judge was actually silent on that matter.
            First paragraph of cited article: "A federal judge slapped down the FAA’s fine for a drone operator, saying there was no law banning the commercial use of small drones."
            Third paragraph of the cited

            • The opening claim was that the judge said that the FAA was not permitted to make rules in this area while the judge was actually silent on that matter. First paragraph of cited article: "A federal judge slapped down the FAAâ(TM)s fine for a drone operator, saying there was no law banning the commercial use of small drones." Third paragraph of the cited article "NTSB Administrative Law Judge Patrick Geraghty ruled Thursday that the policy notices the FAA issued as a basis for the ban werenâ(TM)t enforceable because they hadnâ(TM)t been written as part of a formal rulemaking process." This contradicts the claim from first paragraph that the judge said the FAA could not legally make any rules in this area.

              But if you look at the judge's actual ruling, you will see that the opening claim is in fact correct.

              The judge did rule that there was no law allowing the FAA to regulate model aircraft (which, it should be noted, was being used for commercial purposes). Quote the ruling:

              Neither the Part 1, Section. 1.1, or the 49 U.S.C. Section 40102(a)(6) definitions of "aircraft" are applicable to, or include a model aircraft within their respective definition.

              . . .

              Accepting Complainant's overreaching interpretation of the definition "aircraft", would result reductio ad absurdum in assertion of FAR regulatory authority over any device/object used or capable of flight In the air, regardless of method of propulsion or duration of flight.

              The judge further notes that this is far beyond the intent of Congress when they passed the relevant law.

              This in no way implies that ALL rulemaking by hte FAA is illegal, you you still have to demonstrate the the specific area of rulemaking has not been authorized. This has yet to be shown.

              I didn't say all rulemaking by FAA is illegal. What I wrote was that the fact that the judge used lack of rulemaking as the basis of

              • I will add: again, just as the judge stated in the ruling I quoted above, what Congress intended as "navigable airspace" and "aircraft" are what rule the day here. It does not encompass any part of any air in United States terroritory, nor does it mean any conceivable flying machine.

                In the United States, the original intent of the law as passed trumps somebody's later interpretation.
                • by alexo (9335)

                  In the United States, the original intent of the law as passed trumps somebody's later interpretation.

                  At least two recent presidents strongly disagree.

              • Cool, so any drone flying over my house below the FAA controlled airspace is trespassing, and I can get some skeet shooting practice in?

  • by Lodlaiden (2767969) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @02:52PM (#47309037)
    Drones are for delivering missiles.
    • So what you're saying is that the packages should be loaded into the missiles. Coming soon: Amazon Prime Missile! When you order your product, it will be loaded into a missile and aimed right for your front door. Time from "shipment" to "delivery" should be mere minutes.

  • Yet another example of an overbearing bureaucracy killing innovation.
    • by jythie (914043) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @03:00PM (#47309115)
      Considering the poor safety history drones have had so far and the point that this is the FAA's job, I am not sure I would call it overreach at this stage.
      • by 0123456 (636235) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @03:04PM (#47309147)

        Considering these are basically miniature electric helicopters, I'm not sure a crash is really that big a deal; certainly no more so than a truck crashing in the street while delivering the same package through the FAA-approved route. Plus, whoever it crashed on would get free stuff as compensation.

        • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @03:10PM (#47309205) Homepage Journal

          Considering these are basically miniature electric helicopters, I'm not sure a crash is really that big a deal;

          Well, the only part of that which seems reassuring to me is miniature, and that claim doesn't hold up. A drone which can carry (for example) more than about a can of soda is large enough to cause serious injury if it falls out of the sky and lands on you, or its software gets confused and it engages in controlled flight into your face. And then there's the fire risk if something bad should happen to a battery; sure, you could use LifePo or another safer-chemistry battery, but that doesn't rule out fires. If the drone should come down and set something inconvenient alight, assigning blame will be the least consideration.

        • Considering these are basically miniature electric helicopters, I'm not sure a crash is really that big a deal; certainly no more so than a truck crashing in the street while delivering the same package through the FAA-approved route. Plus, whoever it crashed on would get free stuff as compensation.

          Tell that to the guy whose cranium was split in half by a quadcopter a year or so ago.

        • Considering these are basically miniature electric helicopters, I'm not sure a crash is really that big a deal; certainly no more so than a truck crashing in the street while delivering the same package through the FAA-approved route. Plus, whoever it crashed on would get free stuff as compensation.

          Except trucks don't frequently crash as they're flying over my house, or power lines.

          Sure, trucks do crash into houses sometimes, or do crash into power lines sometimes, but that's an entirely different situation than expecting them to fly over your hard.

          The FAA could build up some form of regulated routes and co-ordination between drones, but they have not as of yet, and have not gotten any direction to do so. So until then, banning these uses of drones seems reasonable.

        • by SeaFox (739806)

          Considering these are basically miniature electric helicopters, I'm not sure a crash is really that big a deal...

          To be capable of carrying a package, these are going to be quite a bit larger than some dinky RC copter.
          I think being hit with one (or the merchandise it's carrying) could cause significant injury.

          • by timeOday (582209)
            To carry a package, yes... allowing packages to be carried over cities at this point would be reckless IMHO.

            But I was more disappointed by this example of what is not allowed: "Determining whether crops need to be watered that are grown as part of a commercial farming operation."

            You don't need a big, heavy drone to take pictures, and there isn't much to crash into on farm land. (Granted, the max altitude must still be limited to prevent collisions with larger aircraft.)

            Now, maybe satellite imagery is

            • by jythie (914043)
              That example indeed seems a bit unnecessary, but I suspect right now they are just starting with a simple, clear, broad rule and will start changing things once the technology has matured a bit more
        • The delivery by truck requires a licensed driver and an inspected vehicle.

        • by jythie (914043)
          You generally are not allowed to have drone trucks on the street either. The lack of direct human control makes drones significantly more dangerous.
      • Safety History? Random news stories on CNN or Slashdot are now safety studies?

        If you want to ban an entire industry, you should have some evidence to back up your claims. I don't see drones as a physical threat at all. There's lots of other reasons why they're threatening. But if I can knock the thing out of the air with a fly swatter I'm not too worried about it. If Amazon were trying to deliver barbells with drones, I'd be concerned. But if they limited it to books under a certain weight? USB cables? Thin

        • ...ban an entire industry...

          That industry better make with the campaign contributions, then.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          and have worked extensively on safety studies. No commercially available UAV (including the military ones) are anywhere close to safe enough to fly over populated areas. The experimental ones, generally, are not adequately designed to be able to characterize their safety. None of them meet the extant rules for aircraft design, nor can be flown in compliance with FAA operational rules outside of the (congress prohibited creating any) hobby RC aircraft rules.

          Drones are inherently digital fly by wire aircraft.

          • To extend your example, a baseball offers a large surface area when it hits something which spreads the applied force across that surface area.

            Drones designed to carry any amount of cargo are likely to be pointy for aerodynamics, and have rapidly moving parts that do not present a large surface area in the direction of rotation (read: propellors or rotors) that will act like knives.

        • by jythie (914043)
          Drones crash more often then their manned counterparts. Even the military ones which are top of the line have issues with this.
          • Drones crash more often then their manned counterparts. Even the military ones which are top of the line have issues with this.

            really? Evidence please?

            Do they crash more than land vehicles? Because that's how the package will likely be delivered if there's no drone.
            What do you think would hurt more?
            a 5lb drone 50ft over your head doing 20mph?
            or
            a 3000lb UPS truck on the freeway?

            • by jythie (914043)
              Well, doing a quick search, I am seeing about 6 drone crashes per 100,000 flight hours, while truck accidents come in at around 0.3 per million miles. Not the same scales but it does show how different the crash rates are. A more direct comparison puts drones against commercial aircraft which comes in at about 2 per million flight hours. So yes, drones crash more often then other aircraft and land vehicles.
      • by troll -1 (956834)
        But it's only commercial delivery that is banned. You can deliver beer to ice fishermen by drone, no problem. But as soon as you are compensated for the effort it becomes illegal. How is this technology supposed to grow if you can't fund it?
    • by synapse7 (1075571)

      I bet the citizens of Dubai get their shit delivered by drones.

    • by Deadstick (535032)

      Not killing innovation, requiring it. If you want to deliver packages by air to people's doorsteps, you're just going to have to invent an anti-gravity device that will do it without killing their children and dogs.

      • "...without killing their children and dogs."

        Well, if you keep putting silly requirements on everything we'll never make any progress!

  • by cloud.pt (3412475) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @02:57PM (#47309083)

    Low-level flight should be regulated on a municipal level, not through national airspace policies. Such type of drones doesn't need (despite having the ability) to fly higher than you average apartment block. As such, commercial, recreational or even military use of such gear should have never fallen under the FAA's jurisdiction, as the FAA never really had control over what's on a shallow level of the ground (excluding airports or helipads, but even there it's the facility that molds to the FAA regulation and not FAA regulation restricting it to total impossibility).

    It's much like saying the FAA should regulate paper-plane throwing or bungee-jumping: "Hey, you can't jump from that bridge wearing an Amazon t-shirt silly. You're going to jail"

    • by Firethorn (177587)

      I think that it's the FAA sees a potential end-run around it's traditional domain- after all if you allow drones for disaster reconnaissance, how long before UPS and Fedex are campaigning for unmanned transport jets, followed by even traditional airliners wanting to get rid of their pilots? Without pilots, there go the air traffic controllers.

      Meanwhile they lack the ability under the law to do much more than just push a blanket ban on drones, many of which don't even need traditional airports.

    • It's much like saying the FAA should regulate paper-plane throwing or bungee-jumping

      Hey, don't give them any ideas! It's bad enough already.

    • by westlake (615356)

      Low-level flight should be regulated on a municipal level, not through national airspace policies.

      Good lord, No!

      There are 25 political subdivisions in my home county alone that would be competing for control of drone flights.

  • In related news FAA administrators ban all technological progress. In a hearing scheduled for some time where anyone who might pay attention will be at work they will be discussing the potential banning of airplanes altogether in favor of long distance trebuchet.

  • by stox (131684) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @03:00PM (#47309111) Homepage

    Trebuchet's: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... [youtube.com]

  • better then killing the hobbyist seen by over doing the safety reg and other stuff.

    But for commercial use they better be safety and drone operator training so they can't just hire anyone and that if some thing goes wrong that some will be there to pay up and make so that they can't hide under layers and layers of contractors and subcontractors

  • by MouseTheLuckyDog (2752443) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @03:14PM (#47309269)

    These rules are tentative, and Amazon is a long way off. By the time Amazon is ready, I think these rules will be modified.

    • by Warhawke (1312723)
      Part of getting "ready" is ensuring that you are in compliance with the rules. Amazon cannot be "ready" if the rules are subject to modification, because they have nothing by which to comply.
  • by TheCarp (96830) <sjc AT carpanet DOT net> on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @03:23PM (#47309375) Homepage

    I didn't check the actual article but, from the summary, this sounds like same old same old.

    Drone use has been limited to non-commercial recreational use. This is not new, this has been the state of things for a while, we have seen several articles on it. I don't see how this adds anything new except to point out that Amazon's plan, wouldn't be legal under current regulations.

    This seems kind of navel gazing as it was a) obvious and b) everybody has been expecting those regulations to change in the near future.

    Was there really anyone who expected amazon would start such deliveries before the obvious and well known regulations that forbid it changed? I certainly expected all their plans were aimed at being ready for the opening of the floodgates and not an attempt to jump ahead of them.

  • Let them put together a way to spy on all drone package delivery data, and boom, the FAA will suddenly approve Drone Package Delivery.
  • by gavron (1300111) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @03:29PM (#47309437)

    This has been debated before but here's the recap.

    An administrative judge ruled in 2013 that the FAA does not have the authority (in other words it has not been given this authority by Congress) to regulate model aircraft including balsa-wood planes, paper-airplanes, radio-controlled (r/c) planes, helicopters, quadcopters, hexacopters, etc. This is established fact. The FAA elected NOT to appeal this.

    The FAA has attempted to levy _one_ fine against someone flying a 'drone' (see above for disambiguation with quadcopters, hexacopters, etc. and realize it's the same thing) and THAT was the time the administrative law judge shot them down and hard.

    The FAA can write whatever they like in the Federal Register.
    Step 1: Get Congress to give them the authority. Until then the FAA lacks jurisdiction*.
    Step 2: Get Congress to fund enforcement actions under this authority. Until then the FAA won't [be allowed to] enforce anything.
    Step 3: Profit.

    Ehud
    commercial helicopter pilot
    Tucson AZ US

    * A previous poster said that "if you can put a piece of paper between it and the ground the FAA has jurisdiction." This is not true. The FAA's jurisdiction comes not from simplistic experiments with tree bark pulp and thin slots, but from the Code of Federal Regulations. It's all in there. Too boring to quote tho.

    • by maccodemonkey (1438585) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @03:55PM (#47309707)

      The FAA elected NOT to appeal this.

      Factually incorrect:
      http://www.mondaq.com/unitedst... [mondaq.com]

      And:
      "The appeal stays the ruling. This leaves the enforceability of the commercial-drone ban -- at least for the moment -- up in the air."

    • by Warhawke (1312723)
      The FAA has attempted to levy more than one fine against people. Pirker was just a high publicity case because of the fact the administrative judge overturned the fine. They have appealed that case and are continuing to issue fines in the meantime to other commercial operators. The FAA is also fining hobbyists as well (look up "Zablidowski"). All of these fines are based (poorly) on a 1980s-era Advisory Circular that sets forth guidelines for hobbyists. Now the FAA is using the advisory guidelines as a
  • What if, instead of delivering a package, it just delivered a pizza? That would be good. There wouldn't have to be any package involved.

    I'd eat a pizza that wasn't in a package.

  • Governments squash innovation. News at 11.
  • by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @04:23PM (#47309979)

    This was actually a very smart regulation. The fact is, the newspapers likely would have ended up filled with stories of people who had gotten a buzz cut or even seriously injured after being hit by a drone. The idea of sending a drone into neighbourhoods and relying on a computer algorithm and finicky electronics, hoping that nothing goes wrong and that it can avoid hitting something, perhaps even killing someone, is bonkers. There are too many things that can go wrong. A bug in code, a bad sensor reading, or simply something not being where it is expected to be, could send the thing headfirst into some kid riding his bicycle.

  • Seriously... who the frack thought this would EVER be practical? It's like that nonsense "beer delivery" drone - except there was no way that drone could deliver a 6-pack, let alone a case of bottled beer to anybody. Range, payload, maintenance, control, and fuel all mean a big "NO" to delivering packages by "drone" for at least the next few decades.

    It's a JOKE. Apparently, a brilliant one, because slashdotters still believe that something useful could be delivered in a practical manner this way.

  • While drone delivery is a stupid idea for the city and suburbs, I think it has some real possibilities for rural areas.

    Being able to fly long distances over largely unpopulated regions, line of site and not affected by road conditions and with no on-board pilot/driver, seems potentially efficient.

    Of course these are also the areas with toothless yokels with shotguns, so that may pose some problems.

    • by westlake (615356)

      While drone delivery is a stupid idea for the city and suburbs, I think it has some real possibilities for rural areas.

      There are reasons why seemingly everyone who actually lives and works in the country owns an all-weather, all-terrain, Jeep, full size pick-up truck, or Chevy Suburban. The Amazon warehouse may be two states over and one state South.

  • A terrible blow for Tacocopter [tacocopter.com], and taco-lovers everywhere.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    We saw this coming, and have been using autonomous land vehicles since 2010. The oldest stuff has been open sourced, so let me know if you need it.

    www.robots-everywhere.com

  • We have too few drones and too many people. The loss of a person here or there shouldn't be taken so seriously. Obviously we let people freeze in their own homes and perish in our shrubs and sidewalks so why the heck does a drone whacking off the odd head now and then worry us much at all?
  • by l0n3s0m3phr34k (2613107) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @08:50PM (#47311791)
    This is just like the ban slapped on amateur rocketry after 9/11. Knee-jerk reactions to non-existent problems. Amazon would never fly any drones without some massive insurance policy; they aren't even being given ANY chance to present a properly risk-assessed and due diligence plan forward - just a big NO from the FAA. This also reminds me of the recent cock-up over Russian rocket engines where SpaceX warned us the Russians would do just what they did a week later.

    Henry Ford must be spinning in his grave seeing how much we clamp down on real innovation now. If he had to deal with this Brazil-style bureaucracy in his day his car wouldn't have ever seen the light of day; the Wright Brothers would have been issued a cease-and-desist and then raided by some fed SWAT team at Kitty Hawke. Just ridiculous and sad.
  • Am I the only one who noticed the timing of this announcement by Amazon coincided with the christmas shopping season; this was nothing more than a quite successful bid for free publicity.

    Not only are "drone" package deliveries technically unfeasable, they are not financially viable by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe...maybe in several decades.

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