The FAA made it plain this week that Amazon, or anyone else for that matter, won’t be able to deliver packages using a drone in the near future. In a document soliciting feedback regarding drone policy — a “Notice of Interpretation with Request for Comment ” — the FAA calls “delivering packages to people for a fee” a non-hobby or recreation-based drone activity. As such, the FAA wants to ban it.
A recent court case set the FAA back regarding its wish to ban commercial drone usage in the United States. The agency is appealing that ruling.
There might have been an Amazon loophole in the proposed rules, however. Amazon’s Prime program provides free shipping to its subscribing customers, so could it get around the FAA’s language due to its use of the word “fee”? Nope.
A footnote to the delivery comment says the following, eliding the online retailer perfectly:
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.
Surprising? No, but it is almost fun to see the government be so particular in its language.
Any future Amazon fleet of drone carriers is likely far off from a technological standpoint, making the above perhaps effectively moot. By the time Amazon would be ready to deploy its drones, our legal code might have caught up to the technology it wants to use.
As Ars Technica notes, Amazon was aware of the restrictions in place on its potential use of drones, with the company saying that “[p]utting Prime Air into commercial use will take some number of years as we advance the technology and wait for the necessary FAA rules and regulations.”