Amazon (AMZN) has had enough of the United States.
Specifically, it’s had enough of the country’s strict, stifling regulations (no surprise there) on unmanned vehicles – a.k.a. drones.
As you may know, a year ago, the company announced its plan to launch Amazon Prime Air – an ambitious drone-based delivery service that would fly packages up to five pounds in weight to local customers within 30 minutes of placing an order.
Sounds great in theory… until you get to the regulatory part.
Moving at the Speed of Government
Mention the word “government” and there are many more (unpublishable) words that folks would probably use to describe it.
Amazon can probably think of a few.
There’s certainly no doubt that elected bureaucrats love to take their sweet time when it comes to writing laws and regulations.
And that’s exactly what’s triggered Amazon’s ire. The company is fed up with waiting for regulators to get off their collective backsides and approve its drone-testing plans for Prime Air. Heck, Amazon has waited since July for the Federal Aviation Administration to approval drone testing in Seattle.
Given the regulatory hurdles that Amazon will have to overcome later, it’s at the point where the company is going to head overseas just to test its drone technology.
No doubt the company is miffed at not being one of the six organizations that regulators have approved for commercial drone testing around the United States.
And it’s putting more pressure on them to get it done by threatening to take its efforts overseas if U.S. restrictions aren’t loosened…
When Drones and Planes Collide… Literally
At a House subcommittee hearing today, the debate continued over how the FAA can weave commercial drones into an already-packed airspace.
And Bloomberg Businessweek reports that it didn’t go well for Amazon.
Nicholas Roy, an aeronautics professor at MIT, told the committee that while drone technology is promising, there are “significant technology gaps” separating the promise from reality. He said Amazon’s Prime Air drone demonstrations were “prototypes at best” (ouch) and that drones and satellite navigation aren’t yet advanced enough to get to people’s homes.
He’s not biased, either, as he’s helped design drones for Google (GOOG).
And the head of the Airline Pilots Association also noted the risks of allowing drones to share the skies with commercial planes.
It’s well-founded, too.
As drone technology has (if you’ll excuse the pun) taken off in recent years and costs have declined, the FAA says it’s recorded 200 safety incidents since February. That includes near-collisions between drones and regular aircraft, as untrained drone operators buzz around the skies.
All the more reason for some proper regulation then, no?
That’s precisely what a host of companies, aviation experts, and even some politicians say.
But it ain’t happening…
Another Missed Deadline
In what turned out to be a grossly optimistic target, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the FAA blew by the September deadline that Congress imposed to allow drone flights to operate alongside regular aircraft.
In fact, commercial regulations on drone flights won’t be in place until 2017 at the earliest, according to the GAO.
Only the government could set – and miss – such ridiculous deadlines!
It makes you wonder whether separate FAA regulation due by the end of the year that would allow commercial drones of up to 55 pounds to operate will actually happen.
Roy says the regulatory process is moving far too slowly. And Jesse Kallman of drone equipment-maker, Airwave, says things need to move faster before “major opportunities are lost.”
Noting that drones are currently used for surveillance, the military, and search-and-rescue missions, he says it’s frustrating for companies to continue waiting. At the very least, approval could be granted in sparsely populated rural areas.
Believe it or not, some high-ranking politicians agree!
Take chairman of the aviation subcommittee himself, New Jersey Republican, Frank LoBiondo: “I can’t help but wonder that if the Germans, French, and Canadians can do some of these things today, then why can’t we also be doing them?”
Meantime, the FAA continues to field requests from commercial outfits looking for exemptions to use drones for a variety of reasons. Indeed, it’s received 167 this year.
The sooner it gets some proper regulation in place for the likes of Amazon and hundreds of others, the sooner it can cut down on all that bureaucratic paperwork.
But then again… this is the government. It loves paperwork!