Amazon's delivery drones may be grounded by new FAA rules

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Amazon's drone delivery system, still in development, may be threatened with new FAA rules on commercial drone usage. (Amazon)

The Department of Transportation may have just grounded delivery drones, effectively canceling Amazon's plan to deliver packages via drones.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released the first operational rules for commercial drone use, creating new regulations to better integrate unmanned aircraft safely into U.S. airspace. However, the rules seem to eliminate any chance of drone delivery systems currently in development.

The new rules require all drones to weigh less than 55 pounds and fly below 400 feet, which Amazon Prime Air is already said to comply with, but the big problem is dealing with the piloting of the drone. Another new rule requires pilots to keep the drone within their visual line of sight and for each pilot to have a remote pilot certificate. But Amazon's proposed drone system doesn't use pilots, instead relying on "sense and avoid" automation technology.

Other rules may also effectively ground Amazon and other drone delivery programs, such as the FAA's prohibiting "flights over unprotected people on the ground who aren't directly participating in the UAS operation," which could imply private homes and neighborhoods entirely.

"This is a step in the right direction for the FAA," said Logan Campbell, the CEO of drone consulting firm Aerotas, before lamenting that delivery "is definitely getting left out in the cold with these rules. All of the long-distance stuff will clearly still have to wait."

"But this is just our first step," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in the press release. "We're already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations."

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