3 Problems with Amazon’s Drone Airspace Plan
Amazon has a nice plan to safely integrate delivery drones into the air, but it's proposal doesn't exactly line up with the FAA's outlook.
Amazon has a great plan on how to safely integrate delivery drones into the air. But as a drone attorney and flight instructor, I see that this plan has some regulatory hurdles to overcome.
Here are three major problems I see with Amazon’s drone airspace plan.
Airspace Problems in the FAA’s Proposed Regulations
The altitudes are logically broken down into 200ft (max height under a blanket COA), 400ft (max height under a “333 exemption”), and 500ft (generally, the floor of navigable airspace as defined in 14 C.F.R. 91.119(c)).
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The 400-500 feet buffer zone provides a nice cushion in case there is a simultaneous altimeter error of a manned aircraft, a GPS error1 on a drone, or just a private pilot fiddling with or trying to find something in the cockpit2.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) greatly detailing drone operations below 500 feet, but the NPRM and Amazon’s plans don’t exactly line up. The FAA will have to amend its proposed rules to match up with Amazon’s.
For example, the FAA’s proposed rules allow for drone flights up to 500 feet. The FAA would have to change the proposed rules down to 400 feet. Furthermore, the FAA’s proposed rules allow many small drones to fly in the 200-400 feet area, while Amazon’s plan would limit it to “well equipped vehicles as determined by the relevant performance standards and rules.”3
- Issue a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking4
- Withdraw the first NPRM and issue another
- Just issue the final rule lining up with Amazon’s plan and hope it does not get challenged. The problem with the third option is it opens up the final rule to judicial5 and political review.6
Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Operations
The NPRM does not allow for BLVOS operations, so this is going to force Amazon to go one of three ways with their aircraft certification. Amazon can:
- Obtain a Section 333 exemption for their aircraft with one or more certificates of waiver
- Obtain a special airworthiness certificate in the restricted category (SAC-RC)7 and obtaining one or more certificates of waiver for the operations
- Attempt to obtain a standard airworthiness certificate which has never been done before.