What the FAA Reauthorization Bill Means for the Future of Drone Delivery

A delivery drone carrying a package.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the national authority that oversees everything from air traffic control to military aircraft, is due for a reauthorization. You may be thinking, “How does this affect the world of ecommerce?”

While the reauthorization bill will mostly focus on reforming the air traffic control system, it will also include sections involving the commercial use of drones. It is no secret that companies like Amazon and Google are researching how delivery drones can be used in ecommerce to support online retailers. This bill will affect how companies proceed with drone delivery.

How does the FAA regulate commercial drones today?

Currently, companies seeking to use drones need to obtain an exemption from the FAA. This means that the FAA has the authority to grant case-by-case authorization for certain unmanned aircraft to perform commercial operations.

The exemption process provides operators who wish to pursue safe and legal entry into the national airspace a competitive advantage in the unmanned aircraft systems marketplace. However, this solution is only a temporary measure until more rules surrounding commercial drone use are put into place, especially around drone delivery.

How will reauthorization change FAA regulation of commercial drones?

The reauthorization bill will extend the exemption process for the present, but it will also start preparations for a more permanent system. The bill proposes that when granting exemptions, the FAA looks at all the risks associated with a particular drone flight, including location, known failure modes, the drone type, the operator’s safety record and the drone’s assignment.

Additionally, the bill will not allow commercial drones to operate beyond line of sight, which is crucial for using drones for delivery. Until this is addressed, delivery drones will remain on the ground in the United States.

How are ecommerce companies responding to the reauthorization bill?

Although there is some major work ahead before delivery drones are allowed, companies in the drone industry are cautiously optimistic about the reauthorization bill. Amazon VP of Global Public Policy Paul Misener provided the following statement to TechCrunch:

“We see opportunities to add provisions in the bill to facilitate beyond line of sight operations, and we look forward to working with Congress and the FAA to bring Prime Air — the next generation of commercial delivery — to customers in the United States safely and soon.”

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