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The FAA Will Let Amazon Drones Fly After All—But Only for Testing

Illustration for article titled The FAA Will Let Amazon Drones Fly After All—But Only for Testing

Just one short month ago, it looks like Amazon's drone delivery dreams were dashed. But today, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted the company an "experimental airworthiness certificate." Does this mean your Amazon Prime will come from the sky now? Not even close.


Basically, all the FAA is letting Amazon do is research and development. (This, after the company threatened to take its drone R&D abroad.) There are quite a few caveats, as well. Here's what the FAA said in its press release—emphasis ours:

Under the provisions of the certificate, all flight operations must be conducted at 400 feet or below during daylight hours in visual meteorological conditions. The UAS must always remain within visual line-of-sight of the pilot and observer. The pilot actually flying the aircraft must have at least a private pilot's certificate and current medical certification.

The certificate also requires Amazon to provide monthly data to the FAA.

So the fact that Amazon won't actually be able to deliver anything with its delivery drones remains. Unless, of course, the delivery happens to be a few hundred feet away. That said, the FAA restrictions pretty much follow the proposed rules for commercial drones announced last month. Based on that bit about the data, though, it sounds like Amazon's R&D will also serve as the FAA's R&D since all of the flight data will go back to the agency for analysis.


Nothing wrong with R&D, though! Especially with drones. [FAA via The Verge]

Update 3/24: Oh, and apparently this experimental airworthiness certificate only applied to one specific Amazon drone prototype which is already obsolete. Amazon's hoping that the FAA will approve R&D on a broader scale, but until then it'll keep on testing outside the US.

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I just don't see how drone delivery is practical for the vast majority of customer cases, or has any actual economic or efficiency advantage over delivery by truck.

First, drone delivery would only be practical within a certain very limited range of a distribution center. And Amazon only puts distribution centers in populated places, like metro areas. But metro areas are also the places where people are least likely to want their packages insecurely dropped off in their front yard... if they have front yards or porches at all (I don't).

Second, Amazon makes thousands of deliveries every day in large cities. What's more efficient: 100 drones zipping back and forth with single packages? Or a single truck, carrying 100 packages, that can make those 100 deliveries during a regular shift.

This is one of those things that sounds practical when you're thinking just about yourself ("why can't a drone just pick up my box at the warehouse, fly it to me, and put it in my outstretched arms?!"), but makes zero sense when you consider that there are millions of other people in the world.