FAA Drags its Feet on Approval so Amazon's Delivery Drones are Tested in British Columbia

Amazon Drone with Package

Amazon is interested in customer service, and one aspect they are heavily concentrating on is home delivery – how fast can we get our customer’s their purchases.  Many customers want it today, so they go to a local store and pick up their purchase.  Amazon is betting, big time, that if they can deliver a customer’s package within 30 minutes that would make them happy…and they are probably correct.  It would also be an incentive to sign up for Amazon’s $99 a year, Prime, which will most certainly include this new delivery system as well as tie the customer into music, videos, movies and TV services. Amazon is a lot like Google in that sense – sign them up for as many products as possible and tie those customers into your ecosystem.

In order to accomplish this task of 30 minutes deliveries, Amazon has turned to the drone as their future delivery system of choice.  They want to have their drones fly in airspace of above 200 feet to avoid buildings and below 500 feet to avoid any general aviation traffic.  The drones themselves – a highly guarded design secret – weigh about 55 pounds and would fly in a 10-mile or longer corridor at 50 MPH.  They would carry packages of up to 5 pounds – these restrictions account for 86-percent of all consumer packages.  People on the ground would not have to worry about an HDTV falling out of the sky and hitting them.

Instead of embracing this new technology, Amazon has met with ridicule and resistance along the way…especially from the US FAA department and the main reason they are now testing their delivery drones in an undisclosed location in Canada’s British Columbia rather than their home state of Washington.  The company was finally given FAA approval, but it took them so long that by the time Amazon received the green light, the design of the drone had changed (improved) so much that they would have to go through the laborious process all over again.  Canada’s governmental approval was a mere three-week process for the licensing and given carte blanche to test in a designated airspace.

Paul Misener, the company’s vice-president for global public policy told the Guardian, “We think that this new technology will provide huge benefits for our customers, who we think will love it, and for society more broadly.  Why would we wait?” Brendan Schulman, a New York-based specialist in drone law, said that this should be a “serious wake-up call to politicians and regulators.  America has led the world in aviation development, but for the first time in history we are at risk of losing out. To see one of our most innovative companies forced over the border is a stark example of the danger.”

Misener explained that “We are going to end up with unique shapes, unique vehicles. The most important part is to develop strong confidence that our system is safe and that we can demonstrate that to customers.  You can build a very different world.  It can be faster, and safer, and more economical and more environmentally friendly – all of those things, all at the same time.”  While the FAA’s responsibilities are huge, they will have to quickly find a way to adjust because it is starting to look like drones are here to stay.