back to article FAA shoots down delivery by drone plans

The United States' Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn't mention Amazon Prime Air, but it's intentions look pretty clear: toy aircraft, including the remote control quadcopters mooted by Jeff Bezos in a December 2013 interview with CBS, aren't for commercial purposes. As readers will recall, Bezos sparked equal …

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  1. Charles Manning

    But...

    People in various countries have been using radio controlled aircraft for IR photography for soil analysis etc since the 1980s or so.

    I remember people doing this in South Africa in the late 1980s so surely people have been doing that in The Land Of The Free too.

    Surely that will remain legal?

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: But...

      I believe the FAA statements are designed specifically to head off a variety of potential issues that are expected to crop up in the next few years. Overlap between various regulations really cuts down on 'loopholes' and might seem overly restrictive, but over time those regulations will be refined and specific scenarios will be defined.

      It would be a very overzealous government representative who went through the trouble to identify, track down and punish/prosecute people for continuing with accepted practices that, as you say, have been going on for ages.

      At any rate, the R/C component of your observation would surely be the differentiating factor. Assuming it is functioning properly, there is very little an R/C model can do without direct operator input and the maximum range is rather firmly established by virtue of the radio signal.

      A drone though, it can operate autonomously and could potentially be made so that no outside signal could be recognized by the craft and the thing just flies away. It can be of reach of any method of control and leave the operator with zero situational awareness.

    2. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: But...

      Speaking as a glider pilot, I don't have a problem with RC models because they are under the control of a human operator who should be able to see and avoid any full-size aircraft where he is flying. In addition, the RC model has to remain close enough to its operator for him to see not only where it is, but its attitude. Without this visual feedback its impossible to control the model. This is also why many models have different colouring top and bottom and often use assymetric colour schemes. I used to fly a bit of RC and found that using this type of paint job made the model far easier to control.

      However, the thought of drones operating in class G airspace is very scary. Almost by definition these will be either autonomous or outside visual range of an operator but none of them, as far as I am aware, give the operator anything like the field of view or the fine-grained visual resolution that any GA pilot has and I don't think any of the autonomous drones have any optical see and avoid capability. In other words, current drones have little or no ability to stay clear of gliders, paragliders, microlites or balloons. These aircraft types do not usually carry transponders, so an autonomous drone that can't reliably use optical sensors to see and avoid a full-size aircraft is just an accident looking for a place to happen.

      Recent reports confirm my assessment: American military drones have collided with manned aircraft (a C-130 no less), crashed because the operator didn't realise it was inverted, and had to be shot down by F-16s when the radio link failed: a whole litany of crashes and failures which all prove that drones have no place in civilian airspace or over towns, at least until the failings that led to these accidents all have proven, reliable solutions installed in every drone and subject to regular inspection and certification. Achieving this will take considerable time and is unlikely to be cheap.

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2014/06/20/when-drones-fall-from-the-sky/?hpid=z1

  2. as2003

    Why is the reason a craft is in the air important to the FAA? I.e. Why do they care if the nature is commercial or not? Genuinely interested.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Because once there's a business model built on using drones, it would be that much more difficult to change the rules if things got out of hand.

      Let's say Amazon was able to get this ridiculous idea off the ground (sorry for the pun) They've got a fleet of drones delivering millions of packages every day, and because there are so many, a couple are falling out of the sky and damaging property every week, and the fear is that it is only a matter of time before someone is killed. The FAA must act, but the congresspeople from the state of Washington, along with Amazon's lobbyists, will put the full court press down on the FAA to delay any rulemaking as long as possible.

      You know, sort of like what is happening today with net neutrality. If they can drag their feet long enough, it will be "too late" to change things.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "a couple are falling out of the sky and damaging property every week, and the fear is that it is only a matter of time before someone is killed. The FAA must act, "

        Although its perfectly acceptable for Uncle Sam to fly drones carrying missiles to kill brown people, because if they fall out of the sky through incompetence or accident it's only going to be on other brown people. What the FAA do will be copied elsewhere, and what they've given the world is what (currently) amounts to an effective prohibition on developing civilised applications for drones, whilst the military throw vast sums of taxpayers money at more and more lethal versions.

        I can understand that the FAA wish to avoid accidents (in particular with piloted craft), and that a free for all is undesirable, but this sort of blanket ban is a modern day Red Flag Act. I'll wager it wouldn't have happened if the drone makers weren't so firmly sucking on the Pentagon's teat.

        1. Ben Bonsall

          I believe the FAA only regulates military air traffic when it is using civilian infrastructure, so not when they are killing brown people. Also, this notice relates to model aircraft- at 48ft wingspan, predator drones are probably not classified as models...

        2. Don Jefe

          There are lots of things and activities (that aren't drugs) that are banned by the government. Most people don't have the resources or interest in stuff in those categories, so they simply aren't aware of them. Drones change those traditional equations though. Melding the well understood, and rather advanced, R/C aircraft scene together with the well understood, and rather advanced computing scene results in a whole much greater than the sum of its parts and well within the financial means of most of the public who are interested in having a drone. It's all a very significant development and it needs to be carefully managed.

  3. glen waverley
    Childcatcher

    back to the future?

    " give rise to the rather hilarious state of affairs in which each delivery drone had to be accompanied by its operator for the whole of the trip"

    Perhaps with an attendant carrying a red flag? As in the days of road going steam engines?

    Vaguely Victorian icon.

  4. DougS Silver badge
    Joke

    Beware of dog

    Maybe they'll be useful when within the sight of the operator to deliver packages the last 50 feet to yards with mean looking dogs.

    1. Hud Dunlap
      Pint

      Re: Beware of dog

      A lot of meter readers use binoculars for troublesome backyards.

    2. David Roberts Silver badge

      Re: Beware of dog

      Or the operator could sit in the truck and deliverpackages to several households at once.

      Phone call - can you come to the door please our drone has arrived.

  5. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    An opportunity for the supergun ?

    WWII era guns could 'deliver' a 7ton package at least 25mi and there would be no need for the delivery driver to leave a note if you weren't in.

    Obviously some work would have to be done on the packaging - but anything that can survive Puralator should be OK

  6. Ralph B

    The 11th Commandment

    Amazon need merely apply Airwolf technology to their quadcopters. If the FAA don't see them, they can't prosecute them.

  7. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    Not sure that this is a real problem, I read it as a statement that currently these devices are not permitted by the US FAA. In other words, new regulations and controls would have to be put in place to regulate and control what is in reality a new flying protocol - autonomous, out of line of site of operator, satellite (or otherwise) navigated devices.

  8. Charles Pearmain

    Is there a season for drones?

    Spoilsports; let's hope the CAA doesn't follow suit.

    I for one was looking forward to a stream of autonomous drones, each bearing tech delights, just ready to be plucked from the air by some judicious sniping.

    It would certainly save on pheasants.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is there a season for drones?

      This already applies under CAA rules, for commercial use you need BNUC-S pilot qualification and for larger sizes the drone must be certified.

      1. kmac499

        Re: Is there a season for drones?

        So commercial Drones not allowed for delivery..

        That's Hedwig stuffed then,

        1. Ralph B

          Re: Is there a season for drones?

          So commercial Drones not allowed for delivery..

          That's Hedwig stuffed then,

          Hedwig is an owl, not a bee!

          1. Don Jefe

            Re: Is there a season for drones?

            Hedwig is dead.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is there a season for drones?

      CAA website under Unmanned Aircraft, Operating Permission

      "Articles 166 and 167 of the ANO 2009 explain the specific circumstances in which operating permission must be obtained from the CAA. In summary, permission is not required for aircraft of 20 kg mass or less being flown within direct unaided line of sight and away from people, property and congested areas. Most other operations, including flights in congested areas and those conducted for Aerial Work purposes, will require prior permission from the CAA"

      and

      "operators that are required to apply for permission from the CAA will be asked to demonstrate that they have considered the safety implications and taken the steps necessary to ensure that the aircraft will not endanger anybody"

      So flying your 3ft wingspan Spitfire model in a field in the middle of nowhere is probably OK, skulking in the basement while your quadcopter plays aerial spy on your neighbour's wife sunbathing in their garden is probably not OK (though if you draw up a safety plan and a operations manual they might let you)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Is there a season for drones?

        "Most other operations, including flights in congested areas and those *conducted for Aerial Work* purposes, will require prior permission from the CAA"

    3. JustWondering
      Happy

      Re: Is there a season for drones?

      Skeet shooting with prizes? Bring it on!

  9. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    good thing then that the SPB isn't located in the US

    or the LOHAN project might have to be binned!

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's OK

    I expect that some folks in rural areas would have fun popping these drones out of the sky for skeet practice.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Birds are bad enough

    Birds entering a turbine are bad enough, and thats mostly "soft" tissue. A drone hitting a turbine would cause much more damage.

  12. The Grump
    Black Helicopters

    The real reason the FAA banned drones...

    is because Amazon DARED to go ahead with this plan before asking our great Democrat Overlords first - what arrogance! To Democrats (and the British equivalent), they MUST control everything. Anything they don't control automatically becomes a "crisis". Democrats despise private enterprise anyway, so Amazon had one strike against it from the start. Add our little bureaucrats, afraid of allowing anything new and different (it's always safer to say "no"), and that's strike two for Amazon.

    Microsoft got the smackdown from the Democrats, before Gates figured out whose palms to grease. Microsoft now has permanent lobbyists in DC, to pay off the Democrats. Amazon better learn from Gates quickly, before it's strike 3 - and they're OUT ! Icon shows what will be used to shoot Amazon drones out of the sky.

    1. Don Jefe
      FAIL

      Re: The real reason the FAA banned drones...

      Odd then, that ~2/3 of privately owned business owners in the US are Democrats. Must be they're working the inside angle and trying to destroy private enterprise by purchasing it all then, something I don't know, my lunacy doesn't run that deep.

      One thing is for sure though, anyone who blames the failure or success of their business on anyone but themselves has no business being in business. If you can't win when the deck is stacked against you then it's best for everyone if you just keep your day job and make sure your family has food. If you got into business your sure to lose all your money and you'll be just one more of the 67% of all welfare recipients that are Republicans. Feeding Republicans is such a waste. If they would get out and work, instead if trying to take from everybody then we wouldn't have nearly such a big budget mess.

  13. HereIAmJH

    Key word, Commercial

    The point that many seem to miss is that the FAA is saying that commercial enterprises cannot fly drones under hobby regulations. I would expect to see commercial regulations in the future, but I suspect all the lobbyists will have to have time to peddle their influence before a draft can be announced.

    For hobbyists they are simply providing safety guidelines. IE. don't fly your quad copter over large crowds where the risk is great that someone would be injured if your flying skills or model aircraft are sub-par. I suppose we could take a laissez-faire approach and let the injured parties sue you into lifetime servitude if you're not bright enough to figure it out on your own.

    And finally, for those worried about the brown people targeted by Uncle Sam's drones, a few points. As was mentioned, the FAA has no control over the military. And when crossed, Uncle Sam is a real prick. If something is perceived as a threat to our economy, skin color isn't an concern. Drones are simply a replacement for Tomahawk missiles, which were used in Bosnia. And most important, remember that when you ask Uncle Sam to intervene militarily, he's going to do so under his own terms. And that usually means that it's OK to kill 10 of 'them' if it saves 1 of 'us'. That is the whole reason new weapons have been created for thousands of years.

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