New rules from the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) that go into effect today could pave the way for drone delivery of ecommerce orders as early as this year, experts say, according to CNBC.
According to the report, the FAA now says commercial drones must weigh less than 55 pounds, fly up to a maximum altitude of 400 feet and no faster than 100 miles per hour, and can only be operated during daytime, including up to 30 minutes before sunrise and after sunset. Drone operators must qualify for flying certificates and be at least 16 years old.
However, the FAA’s restriction to line-of-sight operation of drones is still a limiting factor to broad adoption of the technology.
The new regulations make it easier to obtain drone operator licenses, which until now were restricted to those with a standard pilot’s license. Also, drone operators looking to use them for business had to apply for special waivers from the FAA, a time-consuming and expensive process. Waivers will still be required for flying at night or above 400 feet, among other things.
According to CNN, 3,351 people have signed up to take the aeronautical exam to become certified drone pilots, which becomes available today. The report didn’t say how many of them were competitive gamers on shows like this.
Drones have already been making limited commercial deliveries in New Zealand and Australia, where regulations are more relaxed – and the less-crowded skies friendlier for operating them.
While Amazon is mentioned as being the most advanced in its development of drone delivery, other organizations have been exploring it, including the U.S. Postal Service and Walmart, the latter also looking to use them inside its distribution centers.
Drone delivery can relieve a lot of the pressure on ecommerce fulfillment through existing transportation channels, and provide companies using it with a leg up on the competition. Given the momentum behind it it’s inevitable at this point, but it will be interesting to see how companies deal with the complexities, including avoiding collisions with elevated objects and other drones, as well as safety issues.
It also remains to be seen how limiting costs and factors like infrastructure and finding qualified pilots will be in making drone delivery viable for more than just market leaders.
Once commercial drone delivery begins in earnest, might our urban skies end up looking like this?