In a document seeking feedback on new drone policies, the FAA indicated that it does not want unmanned aircraft "delivering packages to people for a fee." Even if a company doesn't collect a fee—as Amazon has proposed—drone deliveries count as commercial activity, the agency says. And that's against the rules. (Updated below)
The move is sure to raise a few questions, namely whether or not the FAA has the authority to make such a distinction. The FAA has long said that the use of commercial drones is illegal, but a federal court ruled earlier this year that the FAA did not have legal authority over small aircraft. While that decision was largely read as a de facto legalization of commercial drones, the rules governing exactly how commercial drones should be regulated remain unwritten. Meanwhile, the FAA is in the process of appealing the decision.
That said, it's becoming increasingly clear that Federal government is not thrilled about seeing more and more unregulated small aircraft in the sky. The National Park Service last week banned "launching, landing, or operating unmanned aircraft on lands and waters" that it oversees. Meanwhile, the number of incidents involving drones flying close to passenger aircraft is on the rise, raising concerns that a major accident is imminent.
Drone advocates shouldn't plan to leave the country quite yet. First of all, it's still totally legal to fly drones as a hobby—though now you know that making deliveries for a fee is not a hobbyist activity. And, for the first time, the FAA has also awarded permission for the use of commercial drones in Alaska. That's only helpful if you're a giant oil company doing business in one of the remote parts of the world, though. No Amazon deliveries up there. [Ars Technica]
Update (6.25.2014): CNET is reporting that Amazon will not be affected by the new FAA guidelines which apply only to hobbyists' aircraft. The guidelines for commercial drones are still in the works, and the FAA aims to finish by the end of 2015. "The interpretation we just issued applies only to hobbyist/recreational use of drones," An FAA spokesperson clarified. "We are working on a rule that will cover commercial drones."
Image via AP