Why Didn’t Amazon Deliver My New Shoes Using a Drone? Nov18

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Why Didn’t Amazon Deliver My New Shoes Using a Drone?

It seems like forever since we first started expecting the explosion of drone delivery service. Three years ago, Amazon proudly announced Prime Air. Just last week, the Los Angeles Times published an article announcing Google’s entry into the drone delivery business.

So what is taking so long?  There are a number of legal reasons. 

First, an entity seeking to use drones for delivery needs to comply with FAA regulations. Without an exemption, some of these regulations become impossible hurdles. For example, the drone must at all times be under the control of a pilot—autonomous drones are impermissible. Also, the drone must be flown within the line of sight of the pilot in command. Finally, drones can’t be flown near airports, or at night, or over a person, or a moving vehicle or… The list goes on and on such that there are significant hurdles for anyone seeking to deliver anything using a drone—in particular in highly populated urban areas.

Second, until there is clarity as to whether FAA rules preempt the field of drone regulations,  there is a host of State and local regulations with which a drone delivery service must either comply or calculate the risk of non-compliance.  This risk is likely too high to allow for commencement of large scale drone delivery service.

Finally, despite the explosion of the industry, the average person is likely concerned about privacy and nuisance issues that need resolution before the general public will accept drone delivery.  This may not be a legal issue for the person receiving goods via drone—presumably, that person will have agreed to a drone landing in her front yard.  But the recipient is not the only person potentially impacted by drone delivery services.

So take the news of tomorrow’s burrito delivery with a grain of salsa.