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Government Transportation Technology

FAA Bans Delivering Packages With Drones 199

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 Peter L. Berghold ( 3639725 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @03:53PM (#47309051)
    Yet another example of an overbearing bureaucracy killing innovation.
  • by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @04:04PM (#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 gavron ( 1300111 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @04:29PM (#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.

    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 Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @05:45PM (#47310153)

    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. Standards exist for designing fly by wire aircraft, and have been learned the hard way ... people dying. None of the drones are anywhere close to meeting those design rules, and generally fail to comply with most other design rules except the structures ones. And, there is no ruleset yet for the datalinks to control the drones.

    "but, but, but ... small drones" ... How many people are seriously injured every year by a flying object we call a "baseball". There's a reason that almost every baseball league requires batting helmets. And that's a very small flying object. Drones need a mature ruleset, and should not be allowed to fly anywhere near people until there's some ruleset, so we can start developing some maturity to that ruleset.

  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @06:32PM (#47310457)

    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 were part of a formal rulemaking process... and were smacked down. Because Congress did not give them authority.

    And Congress hasn't given FAA authority for this.

    What the law allows the FAA to do is to regulate navigable airspace [faa.gov]. Nothing else. (Navigable means, roughly, continuously travelable by human beings in vehicles... similar to the way navigable rivers are defined.) Navigable airways are clearly defined throughout the United States, down to damn near the square meter. There isn't much wiggle room there. My father was a pilot and I put it a pretty good amount of airtime.

    Low-altitude commercial drones (of the kind the NTSB judge ruled about, and the kind Amazon wants to use) do not operate in "navigable airspace". Therefore, the FAA does not have authority to regulate them.

    They're displaying, yet again, the same kind of blind arrogance they recently displayed in front of SCOTUS. They're just asking for another smackdown.

    Another point: even if Congress did want to give them authority to regulate low-altitude drones, it probably couldn't. Because Federal authority is limited to interstate transportation. It does not have authority over all the airspace in the U.S.! Common law says a property owner controls the airspace over his land. Navigable airways were deemed an exception to this principle, for the sake of interstate air travel.

    So it looks like it's going to have to remain a matter of State regulation.

"Mach was the greatest intellectual fraud in the last ten years." "What about X?" "I said `intellectual'." ;login, 9/1990