Feds Finally Give Amazon Permission for Drone Deliveries in the U.S.

America has been lagging behind other countries.


Good news for both lovers of tech innovation and pandemic social distancing: Drone deliveries are set to expand in the United States.

When the coronavirus pandemic came to America in March and April, many jurisdictions issued broad orders to shelter in place. Home delivery services were hit hard by an explosion in demand, and they lacked the manpower to respond immediately. Stores and delivery services such as Instacart went on hiring sprees to staff up; in some areas, it was extremely hard if not impossible to get goods delivered.

You know what might have made things just a bit easier? Drone deliveries. It has taken years for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow the use of drones for commercial delivery services. We've gone over the course of a decade from a complete ban to extremely slow, heavily regulated, and extremely restrictive initial testing.

Amazon and Google have both been slowly working on drone delivery services, as have some smaller companies. And today, the FAA finally gave Amazon approval for its Prime Air drone delivery fleet.

The FAA did this, Bloomberg reports, by classifying Amazon as an "air carrier" and putting it under the scope of some relatively recent regulations intended to facilitate drone deliveries. The extremely restrictive private drone rules the FAA first put into place required that drones remain in sight of the operator at all times. That simply won't work for drone deliveries. So last year the agency introduced a special certification process that would allow approved pilots to operate drones for much longer distances specifically for deliveries. Wing Aviation, a subsidiary of Google, got some of the first certifications and started a pilot program to deliver food and pharmaceuticals in Virginia.

Today's announcement means Amazon will be able to join Google in drone deliveries. The company isn't ready to start sending out delivery drones immediately and it has declined to state where such deliveries will begin, but last year it revealed its fleet can carry packages of up to five pounds and can deliver in a 15-mile range in less than 30 minutes.

The FAA also recently granted Zipline a temporary waiver letting the company deliver medical supplies in North Carolina. Zipline had been operating for some time in Africa, but the United States continues to lag behind both developed and undeveloped nations in giving drone companies the freedom to test.

Amazon still faces several technical and regulatory hurdles, but it's great that the government is giving it this new room to maneuver. Too bad it took the feds this long to allow it, especially as a pandemic makes drone deliveries not just a futuristic innovation but something we could really use as soon as possible.

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  1. Back in the beginning of the civilian drone era, some enterprising realtors took shots of properties from above. The FAA put a stop to that, even though they were (mostly) taking static shots, directly above the property.

    This was followed by official drone testing sites, with access being controlled by the government. As I said back then, this wasn’t about safety. It was about the government getting top-down control of a nascent industry. That’s why drones are still not much more than a curiosity for most of us.

  2. last year it revealed its fleet can carry packages of up to five pounds and can deliver in a 15-mile range in less than 30 minutes.

    So can Domino’s.

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  3. I still think of Amazon as the Borg, and, you know, the Borg had a swarm of flying drones, too.

    1. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

  4. You know who else tried to deliver packages via unmanned vehicles?

    1. Anthony weiner?

    2. The Challenger?

      1. too soon.

        1. And it was manned.

          1. and girled

            1. and grilled.

    3. Wile E. Coyote?

    4. A guy in Wisconsin who just wanted to make a few bucks and give people what they wanted?


  5. As a Koch / Reason libertarian, I generally support any policy that works in the interests of billionaires. Since Jeff Bezos must be happy about this, I suppose I should be too.

    OTOH if I’m completely honest Bezos is beginning to annoy me. His net worth is currently $200,000,000,000 — well over three times as much as Reason.com’s benefactor Charles Koch is worth. I mean, just because Bezos got lucky by building a business that can thrive without open borders, there’s no need for his wealth to dwarf Mr. Koch’s by such an embarrassing amount.


    1. I think Mackenzie gets half that

  6. its fleet can carry packages of up to five pounds and can deliver in a 15-mile range in less than 30 minutes.

    So, classically, you can’t ship firearms or explosives via air due to the risk of the driver and the vehicle should something go wrong. I’m going to assume that gun shops and sporting and outdoors stores will be preemptively banned or “banned” from availing themselves of this technology because fuck RTKBA.

    1. Ted Kaczynski was born too soon.

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  8. They had to wait a bit for the NSA-mandated license plate reader/facial recognition cameras to be certified for use.

  9. I’m actually a little chuffed. Flying robot deliverymen was the future I hoped for.

    1. Yeah, this is possibly the first “2020” thing that actually feels kinda futuristic and cool instead of bleak and dystopian.

  10. So now, the same people who were moaning about the poor un-unionized delivery people who were swamped with packages and so overworked will be overjoyed by the labor relief these drones will bring, right? Right?

  11. Ok…maybe this is a dumb question, but I gotta ask it.

    Let’s say Amazon sends me a package by drone. They land the little bastard right at my front door. I am ecstatic! I got my shit in an hour. Yay me.

    How do they get their drone back?

    1. There’s no maybe about it.

      1. Yeah, sorry Juice. But I figure I would rather ask the question, look dumb as fuck, but get the answer….rather than wonder about it.

        1. Can’t figure out if I’m missing the sarcasm, or if we just haven’t considered that the drone drops its load (heh heh) and flies back to the truck or warehouse it came from. Or are you saying you’ll be waiting on your porch with a 12-gauge flyswatter, or maybe you’ll be snatching the drone in addition to your package?

          1. Oh yeah, and while I’m at it, this is finally one of the only cases so far where the term “drone” is being used correctly. As in autonomous vehicle that knows where it started, where it’s supposed to go, and how to get back home all by itself. Just because there’s no pilot sitting in a Predator doesn’t make it a drone. The thing’s still being flown by a person, just 8,000 miles away. A DJI quadcopter isn’t much different from an old-fashioned RC model plane, even if you’re flying it with your iPhone. Gets a little fuzzier if you flip the switch that says “follow me” and it does all by itself. Ok, I’m done. Gotta go yell at those damned kids on my lawn.

          2. No, I was asking a serious question. So the drone would drop the package and fly back. Interesting. That must take a lot of battery power. Heck, I could paint a bullseye target for the drone on my front landing to make it easier if it is drop and go.

            1. Yes, it does take a lot of battery power. Less going back, of course.

        2. The robotic Amazon cops will be at your door in minutes.

    2. I suppose you will need a landing port where the aircraft drops down on the plate, unlocks the load and flies back home.

      I’m more than a little skeptical. There’s a lot of go wrong, like branches that weren’t there yesterday, or a drone dropping on a small child playing on the landing port.

      On the other hand, I can totally get into drone hunting for fun and profit!

  12. Can the FAA do something about the Left-wing drones in our cities? Out every night, night after night.

  13. Oh, goody! Target practice!

  14. The FAA also recently granted Zipline a temporary waiver letting the company deliver medical supplies in North Carolina. Zipline had been operating for some time in Africa,

    Just so you know, there’s a reason the US “lags behind” countries like “Africa” when it comes to drone deliveries. I’ll let you figure out why that is.

    1. Just so you know, there’s a reason the US “lags behind” countries like “Africa” when it comes to drone deliveries.

      Powered flight, the internal combustion engine, paved roads, indoor plumbing, concrete, the wheel… so, so many reasons to choose from.

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  17. There are good and bad reasons it has taken so long.

    The bad is that our regulatory agencies are too controlling.

    The good, is that as soon as people get used to drones flying around delivering stuff, Antifa is going to start using them to deliver Molotov cocktails.

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