The Drones Are Coming! The Drones Are Coming!… Or Maybe Not

September 22, 2016

FAA’s Latest Drone Regulations Undercut Commercial Drone Delivery Viability

Drones are the future of fast, efficient, and environmentally friendly delivery. Imagine a world where drones simply dropped your packages, school supplies, or groceries right on your doorstep. Gone would be the days of giant UPS or Fedex trucks lumbering up and down every street in America. Or the ubiquitous Grumann LLV (Long Life Vehicle), better known as your friendly neighborhood mail truck. This vehicle gets an abysmal 9 miles per gallon and the US Postal Service (USPS) still has over 100,000 of these vehicles, which were produced from 1987 through 1994. The cost to the Federal government, and the atmosphere for that matter, to continue operating these vehicles is clear.
Amazon, who is responsible for shipping around 150 million items annually, uses the USPS to deliver about 40% of their packages. Shipping costs are a major issue facing the e-commerce giant, accounting for nearly 10% of total sales. To cut down on these costs, Amazon has explored many possible solutions including crowd sourcing delivery, lockers for customer pickup, or employing services already out driving around, like Uber, to help get packages where they need to be. With so much riding on shipping costs it was unsurprising when Amazon head Jeff Bezos announced Amazon Prime Air. The idea was to let drones do the heavy lifting, likely to the chagrin of the USPS. Prime Air would require a fleet of unmanned aircraft controlled and directed from a central location. One of the main obstacles facing Prime Air would be air traffic control regulations, meant to ensure safety in the skies.
Back in June, Amazon, the USPS, and the rest of the America waited with bated breath for the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) release of its finalized rules for drone operation. While the regulations did away with some requirements, like requiring commercial operators to apply for special permission, it doesn’t go nearly far enough to satisfy Prime Air’s needs. Most importantly, unmanned aircraft must continue to remain within the sight line of its operator. The hopes for a large scale commercial drone delivery service was severely hampered. And so, Amazon will not be setting up a drone center in some nondescript building in the Midwest, delivering diapers to a high rise in New York in 30 minutes or less; at least not until commercial drone delivery is provided with more regulatory support from the FAA.
So we may not be there yet, but the good news is, global technology is beginning to make headway for commercial deliveries. The U.S.-based pizza chain Domino’s has recently rolled out a drone service to deliver Pizzas in New Zealand. The drone has been tested and will begin making deliveries in Auckland later this month on September 26th. The pizzas will take flight, alerting customers once the drone is in the vicinity. They can then step outside on the stoop, signal the drone using their smart phone, and the pizza will be lowered down.

Sadly, it won’t be raining pizzas or packages anytime soon.

America’s skies will be free from commercial drone traffic and the Grumman LLV will continue to slow traffic in your neighborhood, at least for the foreseeable future.