Back in March, an administrative judge for the National Transportation Safety Board found that the FAA should not have fined a man $10,000 for flying his remote-controlled camera drone near the University of Virginia (go Hoos!), saying that even though the agency had decided in 2007 that the commercial operation of drones — or “model aircraft” — is illegal, it failed to get public comment on the rule, as required by federal law.
And so now, reports Ars Technica, the FAA is getting around to that request for public feedback on the rule. And in the notice [PDF] posted this week to the FAA website the agency specifies what it deems as hobbyist vs. commercial uses of model aircraft:
See where it calls out “Delivering packages for a fee”? You’ll notice there’s a footnote; it reads, “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.”
So there’s really no way that, viewed in this light, that Amazon, UPS, DHL, or anyone else could currently use drones for the delivery of parcels.
But things are destined to change, with the FAA still planning to revisit its regulations on drones in the coming months.
What the clarifications do seem to permit is continued testing of drones for future commercial purposes that may eventually be allowed. For example, the above chart lists “Using a model aircraft to move a box from point to point without any kind of compensation,” as an acceptable use. So it would appear that Jeff Bezos and his Amazon pals can mess around all they want, flying around packages for their own amusement, so long as no one is paying them to do it and they aren’t delivering things to actual customers.
Since revealing Amazon Prime Air back in December, the company has said that the service is still years away, so this just gives the robots time to get smarter, start questioning their existence and ultimately band together to coordinate our destruction within 3-5 business days.