The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States is expected to move towards the formalised regulation of commercial drones within the next 12 months.
According to remarks made by Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker in a House Oversight Committee, “the rule will be in place within a year” before adding, “hopefully before June 17th 2016”.
Under the current regulations from the FAA, unmanned aircraft such as drones that weigh less than 55 pounds are not allowed to be out of the line of sight of the controller and must only be flown during daylight hours. This has created obstacles for companies such as Amazon who are currently testing their drones for parcel delivery.
As a result of the strict regulations, the online retail giant has only been able to conduct limited testing on their drones, but has plans to have them flying for distances of up to 10 miles at a maximum of 50 mph at an altitude of 200 to 500 feet to deliver parcels. They hope that this technology will allow deliveries to be made to customers within 30 minutes of an order being placed. In order for this Prime Air project to go ahead, the FAA’s rule on not letting drones out of sight in particular will have to be relaxed.
During the same committee hearing, Paul Misener, Vice President of Global Public Policy at Amazon, said the company was still hard at work to ensure its drones were ready: “We’d like to begin delivering to our customers as soon as it’s approved. We will have it (the technology) in place by the time any regulations are ready. We are working very quickly.
“If a consumer wants a small item quickly, instead of driving to go shopping or causing delivery automobiles to come to her home or office, a small, electrically-powered (drone) vehicle will make the trip faster and more efficiently and cleanly.”
The idea for parcel delivery by drone first emerged in 2013, when Amazon unveiled their Prime Air project, and since then the company have been lobbying the FAA for approval. Following disputes, Amazon moved their testing across the border to Canada in order to undergo initial flight tests. The FAA has since given the go-ahead to Amazon for drone tests, as well as making it easier for other companies to apply for operational permission.
Even if the FAA does grant approval for the use of commercial drones, there are still numerous hurdles that Amazon must overcome before the technology can be put to proper use. There are concerns over the security of packages, such as delivery to incorrect addresses or stolen orders. The drones must also be able to react quickly to obstacles and change course if necessary to compensate for bad weather.
Robert Mead, Marketing Manager at Parcel2Go.com, believes that drones could take customer service to a whole new level: “With innovative ideas like delivery drones and the efforts made towards achieving same-day delivery, we can see just how important customer satisfaction has become to retailers.
“Rather than shying away from these futuristic concepts, companies are facing up to the challenge set by customers who want their orders delivered as fast as possible. But before these projects become a reality for everyone, it is important that companies are working with the right courier service to ensure that they are meeting and surpassing the customer’s expectations.”