Still Waiting for Drone Deliveries

At the end of August, the FAA finally gave Amazon approval for its Prime Air drone delivery fleet.


When jurisdictions across the United States responded to the COVID-19 epidemic with broad lockdown orders in March and April, home delivery services lacked the manpower to keep up with the explosion in demand. Stores and companies such as Instacart went on hiring sprees; in some areas, it was very hard, if not impossible, to get goods delivered.

You know what might have made things a bit easier? Drones. It has taken years for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow the use of unmanned aerial devices for commercial delivery. Over the course of a decade, we've gone from a complete ban to slow, heavily regulated, and restricted initial testing.

At the end of August, the FAA finally gave Amazon approval for its Prime Air drone delivery fleet. It did that by classifying Amazon as an "air carrier" and making it subject to some relatively recent regulations intended to facilitate drone deliveries.

The FAA's rules initially required that private drones remain in sight of the operator at all times. That simply won't work for delivery services. So in 2019, the agency introduced a special certification process that would allow approved pilots to operate drones across much longer distances. Wing Aviation, a subsidiary of Google, received some of the first certifications and started a pilot program to deliver food and pharmaceuticals in Virginia.

Amazon will now be able to join Google in drone deliveries. The company wasn't prepared to start sending out delivery drones immediately, and it has declined to state where such deliveries will begin. But last year the company revealed that its fleet can carry packages weighing up to five pounds and deliver them within a 15-mile range in less than 30 minutes.

The FAA also recently granted the company Zipline a temporary waiver allowing it to 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 developing nations in giving drone companies the freedom to test their services.

While Amazon still faces several technical and regulatory hurdles, 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 the pandemic made drone deliveries not just a futuristic innovation but something we could have used yesterday.

NEXT: Maryland County Piles New Regulations on Struggling Restaurants

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  1. Think it’s a coincidence that this permission came during the Trump administration? Just the working out of the process over time? Or that a Trump FAA made things easier on business than an Obama FAA did?

    1. Maybe so. But if the price for less regulation is a divisive bully who is driving the country away from democracy, civility, and trust, it’s not worth it.

      A libertarian society is civility, tolerance, and trust as part of its foundations.

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        2. Lmao

      1. I can’t believe that White Knight finally admitted “They can do anything right that they want, but because TRUMP, I will never agree.”

        Who is the divisive one then? I mean, you literally are saying that when “The other side” delivers you a win, you will not give them credit. How will that ever lead to less divisiveness?

        1. Overt, how is sowing divisiveness, incivility, and undermining democracy “doing it right”?

          1. It’s not that those things are “doing it right”, it’s that they’re irrelevant to the results. We all know jerks who are great at what they do. And the world’s greatest radio station, WFMU, deliberately eschews democracy in how they’re run, to their enormous benefit.

            1. So, you see no value in civility, tolerance, and faith in democracy.

        2. There is no “other side” here. When it comes to Team Red vs. Team Blue, I’m a Dodgers fan sitting there watching the Giants play the Royals (metaphorically).

          1. Dodgers fans wear blue. HA!


            1. Ooh, that’s pretty airtight. You got me!

              1. The White Knight
                November.22.2020 at 8:45 pm
                Ooh, that’s pretty airtight. You got me!

                This is what you’ve become Dee. The anger has definitely corrupted your feeble mind.

      2. “Maybe so. But if the price for less regulation is a divisive bully who is driving the country away from democracy, civility, and trust, it’s not worth it.”

        I not sure you have that ability, but stupidity and TDS you have in abundance.

        1. And you have the perfect makings of a Trith: a high Trumti-clorian count and seething anger.

          1. As a victim of fatal TDS, your constant inability to post anything other than piles of bullshit is noted.
            Fuck off and die; make the world a better place.

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              1. The White Knight
                November.22.2020 at 8:45 pm
                Ooh, that’s pretty airtight. You got me!

      3. Are you saying that strangling regulation is ok as long as everyone can pretend to like each.other?

        Because the reason for the incivility is that people like you constantly insist that I have to join your socialist collective.

        Because ‘democracy’.

        1. Disservice with a smile.

        2. Take a logic class. I didn’t say a thing about regulation being OK. I said that low regulation is worth shit if the country is descending into incivility, division, and the death of democracy.

          1. Make your family proud and your dog happy; die a slow and painful death.

          2. “Take a logic class.”

            Haha super douche comment Dee! You’re the best. What will you do when you realize you’re below average intelligence of all the commentators here, and definitely an easy 30 points below Agammamon?

    2. My question was a serious one. I don’t know whether the bureaucratic ball would’ve rolled at the same speed regardless, and it was just a coincidence of timing when it fell into the slot, or it was held up for a long time and then expedited.

      It was only years later (thru books from the Reason Foundation) that I learned that much of the deregulation that occurred during the Carter (and late Ford and early Reagan) administration was actually in response to commissions that had been convened by the Nixon administration and took years to report to Congress. I’d never thought previously of Nixon as much of a deregulator — he did so many things overtly pro-regulatory — but you have to give him credit for starting those balls rolling. In fact the only one of those major commission findings that wasn’t favorably acted on (i.e. as recommended by the commission) was the one to move marijuana out of its temporary control schedule (1) into either a decontrolled or much less stringently controlled status.

      1. Back in Obama’s 1st term, major restrictions were put on commercial drone use and development, in what I claimed was an attempt to control a nascent industry and pick winners and losers (I still stand by this claim). I think this is just a coincidence that approval came now.

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  2. And what could possibly go wrong?

    1. When you have a mind like Shackford’s–so narrow it’s two-dimensional–you cannot consider these things.

    2. I’m predicting a lot of delivery drones being used for target practice.

  3. Too bad it took the feds this long to allow it

    Look, it takes a long time even for Top Men to think of every possible consequence of allowing drone deliveries and to plot out the exact development of the industry over the next 5 to 10 years. But now that they have, you can rest assured that now we know how drone deliveries will play out and that there will be no unanticipated problems or questions or byproducts whatsoever in the drone delivery industry.

    1. You know, it almost sounds as if Scott doesn’t trust Top Men to infallibly make the correct decisions – I blame Trump for this lack of trust in our most sacred institutions of aviation.

      1. Are you saying that you think Trump has a position on delivery drones, or whether they require FAA approval. Are you saying you think he has spent even one second thinking about this issue.

        1. I’m saying that he’s Trump. Even when he’s doing the right thing he’s Trump so it’s wrong and he’s being divisive.

          1. When he’s being divisive, which is pretty much 18/7, he is being divisive.

            1. The White Knight
              November.22.2020 at 8:45 pm
              Ooh, that’s pretty airtight. You got me!

        2. We use commercial drones as part of our business. There was a lot of regulation and red tape involved to get that started. A small part of it is because of legitimate FAA concerns, but most of it was completely pointless.

          This administration put people in place who were of the mind to make some of the more pointless regulations go away. Even if Trump’s only involvement was hiring people with that sort of mindset, it’s still a good thing. Even if all he did was hire the people who hired the people with that sort of mindset . . . what exactly is your opposition?

          1. I’m not opposed to decreasing the regulation at all.

            I’m saying it is unlikely Trump deserves much credit for it.

            1. “…I’m saying it is unlikely Trump deserves much credit for it.”

              I’m saying you’re full of shit.

              1. And you are full of Trumpti-clorians.

                1. Tell us about cacl and how you coined it again Dee! It’s fascinating.

    2. Wrll at least reason backed the party promising more regulations to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

      1. Link to one example of Reason backing the Democratic Party.

        1. Holding all those anti-Biden stories till after the election.

          1. But they didn’t.

  4. “we know how drone deliveries will play out ”
    Probably someone figured out the value of drones in being able to quickly deliver harvested ballots in future elections.

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  6. I am sure that government red tape is hampering things to an extent. However it is disingenuous to suggest that without government red tape we’d have drone deliveries already. First, Amazon says it right there in the article- their tech isn’t ready yet.

    It isn’t like the FAA just waited while Amazon kept refilling briefs over and over to try and convince them. The FAA put in place technical requirements and tests that Amazon needed to fulfill before moving into further areas of approval. So the FAA was actually part of driving the requirements. Of course it is possible that some of the requirements they were driving were unnecessary, but we don’t get much detail. (The requirement of drones to remain in sight of pilot was a safeguard until OTHER technical solutions were ready.)

    Ultimately I’m not sure what the libertarian solution to this is. These drones are flying over people’s private property or through a commons. There has to be a cooperative framework. And if a non government standards group still governed this voluntarily, I can guarantee you it would similarly be slow and deliberate.

    1. Usually independent standards-setting orgnizations like ASTM, AOAC, USP-NF, NFPA, and ISO are informed by the performance set by already-operating businesses. Products and services come out first, then someone thinks to set standards for them. Buildings were wired for electricity first, then standards started to be set independently for doing so. Westinghouse et al. didn’t wait for the standards to start doing business. People started making drugs, then independent pharmacopeias were devised for them; as new drugs have been introduced, monographs for them have been added.

      1. Not necessarily. Just look at http or ip protocols. Standards are designed in the consortium and then they implement. When talking about the use of a commons like network traffic or airspace, this is not uncommon.

      2. Most of my more liberal friends are genuinely surprised when I inform them that building codes are not written by the government, but by private industry trade groups. Professionals in the building and construction sectors get together and hash out what they think the standards should be, and then local governments (We call them AHJ’s or Authorities Having Jurisdiction) adopt them at their discretion, sometimes with a few amendments.

        Their immediate reaction is that such a process must be a complete abomination, obviously. But it actually works pretty well. Because unlike having lobbyists write legislation, or know-nothing congress-critters trying to do the same, this process involves actual experts in that field. People who have an idea of what is possible and what is practical and what is not.

  7. I have mixed feelings about Jeff Bezos and Amazon in general. Of course, as a libertarian, I want to see billionaires get even richer. So it’s encouraging to know Mr. Bezos has increased his net worth by almost $70 billion this year.

    OTOH it doesn’t sit right with me that he’s earned more this year than our benefactor Charles Koch has in his entire life. Just because Bezos got lucky and started a business that can apparently thrive without the constant influx of immigrant labor that Koch Industries needs. Indeed, my primary criticism of the Drumpf economy is that only some billionaires have prospered.


    1. Don’t worry. The Bezos-owned Washington Post is a tireless advocate for key libertarian platform planks like open immigration.

  8. Meanwhile the delivery people helping make this bullshit pandemic easier realized their work was not appreciated by reason koch industries.

  9. Like packages aren’t mishandled enough already.

    More likely than drones: self-driving vans drop your packages in a standalone docking container in your driveway. No more porch pirates, no more access to your house, no more human contact.

    1. Right. When I think “drones”, I don’t necessarily think only of aerial ones.

  10. “Still Waiting for Drone Deliveries”

    Well, Biden hasn’t taken office yet, but give him a few days in office, and we’ll be neck deep in Afghanistan in no time.

    P.S. Yes, I know that’s not what he was talking about.

  11. I know I’m still waiting for a drone to be delivered.

  12. Trucks are cheaper and easier. Packages do not complain about waiting a few extra hours.

    1. Whether it’s a truck drone or a flying one, with 2-way video it allows contactless verification of the recipient.

      1. Package delivery men and women are not the bogeyman.

        There’s no need to be afraid of everything all the time.

        1. No, I think it’s the deliverypeople afraid of catching something from the customers. Why would you think it went only one way? I’d think that might make a difference in hiring.

  13. WTF are you people ordering from Amazon that a drone can carry any distance? One pair of socks? A sandwich?

    1. My last Amazon order was for some self-closing gate hinges. It weighed in at about 25 lbs. If you put that on a drone, you would have to drive it to its destination.

  14. Amazon Prime Air have a service that will deliver packages up to five pounds in 30 minutes or less using small drones. Great support. They working in the United States, the United Kingdom, Austria, France and Israel.

  15. A major market for this is urban neighborhoods where authorities refuse to prosecute habitual thieves who steal packages delivered to customers’ doors. Sometimes they brazenly follow behind delivery trucks. Urban buildings will be given directions for placing drone-compatible landing platforms on roofs and balconies.

  16. WTF are you humans ordering from Amazon that a drone can convey any distance? One pair of socks? A sandwich?

  17. My ultimate Amazon order turned into for a few self-ultimate gate hinges. It weighed in at about 25 lbs. If you positioned that on a drone, you would have to drive it to its destination.

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