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FAA Bans Delivering Packages via Drone –– for Now

Earlier this week, the Federal Aviation Administration published a “Notice of Interpretation” that outlined new limitations for flying unmanned aircraft — what we’ve lovingly come to know as drones — for both commercial and recreational use.

The statement makes it clear that the FAA disapproves of Amazon’s intention to eventually deliver packages via droneFAA grounds Amazon’s drone delivery plans,” read the headline on the respected tech site Ars Technica.

This may seem like a fatal blow to every package, pizza, and bottle-service drone in America, and especially to Amazon’s recently announced plans to deliver its packages via drone at some point in the future. But drone delivery enthusiasts’ hopes shouldn’t be dashed just yet.

Drone labeled 'Amazon Prime Air'
Drone labeled 'Amazon Prime Air'

(Associated Press)

That’s because these are all tentative recommendations that are only rarely enforced. The FAA isn’t expected to introduce its official regulations for drones until the fall of 2015, as Congress has requested, and in the meantime we’ve entered a murky legal area. That is, according to Brendan Schulman, a lawyer with pending drone-related cases in the United States.

“For the longest time, there were never any regulations concerning model aircrafts,” Schulman told Yahoo Tech. “And if you look today, there’s no aviation regulation that says, ‘Here’s how to use a model aircraft,’ or even that uses that word.”

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has said that he doesn’t expect to have his Amazon Prime delivery drones ready by 2015, which is perhaps why the company doesn’t seem the least bit slighted by this recent announcement. “This is about hobbyists and model aircraft, not Amazon,” Mary Osako, a spokeswoman for Amazon, told CNET. The FAA’s latest set of rules, she explained, don’t apply to businesses like Amazon and have “no effect on our plans.”

Drone hobbyists, on the other hand, might have cause for concern. In its most recent statement, the FAA questioned the safety of a type of drone operation called “first-person view” (FPV), which involves placing a camera on a model and observing or controlling it from a video screen or goggles on the ground. The FAA didn’t necessarily ban the technique, but it did write that “the goggles may obstruct an operator’s vision, thereby preventing the operator from keeping the model aircraft within his or her visual line of sight at all times.”

In other words, the FAA seems very freaked out by the fact that there are drones zipping through the sky unregulated. But until 2015, when it will officially submit its regulations to Congress, its suggestions won’t faze monoliths like Amazon. For your friendly neighborhood drone hobbyist, however, it’s a different story. 

Follow Alyssa Bereznak on Twitter or email her.