Tethered by the FAA

Drone regulations


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said it will establish rules for the use of commercial and private drones within the United States. But the agency has been taking its sweet time putting these rules together, and in the meantime has attempted to enforce an existing ban with threats of fines.

The online sales and distribution monolith Amazon is one of the many commercial interests affected by the slow process. The company made a big splash in December 2013 with a public announcement that it was researching the use of drones for quick deliveries. But the FAA has gotten in the way.

Earlier this year, the agency finally released a proposal detailing the hoops that drone pilots would have to jump through, including a requirement that they pass an aeronautical exam every two years and another that drones be in eyesight of their operator at all times.

Then, in March, the FAA approved a design Amazon wanted to use to research and develop its drone delivery process. That may sound like a step forward, but the agency took so long to OK the request that technological advances had already rendered the approved model obsolete. Paul Misener, Amazon's vice president of global public policy, told a Senate subcommittee in March: "We don't test [that one] anymore. We've moved on to more advanced designs that we already are testing abroad," where the red tape isn't so smothering.