Keeping Up with the Drones(es)

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For the U.K., Amazon drone delivery has left the realm of fantasy and become a reality. On December 14, Amazon announced that it successfully completed its first delivery using an automated drone in Cambridge in the U.K. (In case you were wondering, the customer ordered an Amazon Fire TV stick and a bag of popcorn.) The items were delivered 13 minutes after the customer placed the order. This delivery was part of a pilot program recently launched by Amazon to test its drone delivery concept with real customers. Only two customers are participating in the trial so far, but Amazon intends to expand the program to other residents near its Cambridge facility. Participants will be able to place orders seven days a week, but only during daylight hours and when weather conditions permit drone flight.

In the wake of the development of regulatory frameworks in many European countries, companies like international aviation powerhouse and Robins Kaplan client Irelandia Aviation are increasingly on the cutting edge of drone technology.

“Commercial drones are going to play a big role in the future of commercial aviation and also in supporting humanitarian missions,“ said its Founder and Managing Partner Declan Ryan. “Irelandia Aviation have already invested in several of the industry players such as Verifly,” a startup company that offers insurance to drone operators and aims to develop a safety framework for drone operation.

The United States is vying to keep up with Europe, passing more relaxed drone regulations this summer and promising more to come in the near future. In August, the FAA finalized regulations allowing commercial drone users like Amazon and Walmart to more quickly and easily access the national airspace for commercial use without applying for a costly and time-consuming exemption. For around $200 per user, retailers can operate drones within certain parameters ― for example, the drone must be operated during daylight hours and within an unaided visual line of sight, and the drone cannot travel above 400 feet or faster than 100 miles per hour.

These regulations may permit some uses already planned by retailers, such as inventory management at a Walmart store, as long as it’s done outdoors. What these regulations don’t permit (yet), however, is drone delivery. Given the line-of-sight rule, drone delivery would be nearly impossible under the regulations. The federal government is working to change that.  Earlier this year, the Senate passed a bill requiring the FAA to release regulations within two years that would allow drone deliveries. Conflicts in the House of Representatives prevented the companion bill in the House from being passed, but the issue is expected to remain pressing as lawmakers are eager to have drone delivery infrastructure in place.

 

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