Delivery by Drone… Will It Happen?
Amazon, an online retail giant, recently informed Congress that it’s working on new technology that would utilize drones to deliver some of its packages, all in 30 minutes or less. This statement comes as part of a bigger development in unmanned flights making government officials, as well as members of the public nervous about safety, security and not to mention – privacy. While the use of drone in the commercial aspect is probably years away, it could completely change the way people shop, if government regulations are brought up to speed with rising technology.
The House Oversight Committee recently held a hearing about drones, addressing their potential in our economy and discussing safety and privacy concerns. Paul E. Misener, vice president of global public policy for Amazon.com, told the committee, “If a consumer wants a small item quickly, instead of driving to go shopping or causing delivery automobiles to come to her home or office, a small, electrically-powered (drone) vehicle will make the trip faster and more efficiently and cleanly.”
Misener asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Congress to act sooner rather than later and stated that the tech is in place to safely operate drones when not in eyesight. And while Amazon isn’t ready to Go-live logistically at this time, Misener said, “We will have it by the time the regulations are ready.”
In February, the FAA proposed a set of highly restrictive rules concerning the use of drones in the commercial realm. Operators would have to keep drones within eyesight the entire time they are flying, meaning their flight distance would be greatly limited, and most likely thwart any program Amazon hopes to offer. Currently, only a few dozen companies hold FAA waivers that allow commercial drone flight.
FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker demonstrated that the FAA remains cautious in its approach, citing more research is needed before any decision for widespread use can be made. “We are working diligently to develop a regulatory framework that will allow for innovation while ensuring the safety of other users of the airspace and people and property on the ground,” Whitaker said in the meeting. Their proposal will most likely be finished within a year.
Every month, the FAA collects about 25 reports of drones that have flown close to planes and airports, including one the crashed onto the White House lawn, causing concern about how easy it is for drones (and other small aircraft) to enter into restricted areas. Many government
officials are worried about drones smashing into airplanes. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said, “There will be an incident. There will be a crash. There will be probably fatalities because you have so many of these things flying,” Mica said. “I hope it doesn’t take down a big commercial aircraft. I hope it doesn’t have a lot of fatalities but I think it’s inevitable.”
Myron Gray, president of U.S. operations for UPS, said, “I think it will be quite some time before the Federal Aviation Administration allows drones on any scale,” but notes that UPS is currently running internal experiments on drone delivery. He believes there is a lot of work to be done logistically before the drone system would make sense.
A delivery truck can carry hundreds of packages at one time on delivery, dropping off a dozen in one stop, whereas a drone would carry just one, which is clearly not very cost effective. “You need density and scale to make money in transportation,” Gray said, noting that to be efficient there would need to be thousands of drones in the air at any one time.
Gray stated, “I think we should be very careful about utilizing this technology,” asking, what would happen if someone used a drone to drop a bomb on a sports stadium during a crowded event? Drone use is a matter of national security and we need rules and regulations to keep America safe.