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.


Currently, there are only two drones operating with a SAC-RC and they are both military surplus drones certified under 14 CFR 21.25(a)(2).8

MUST-READ: How Amazon Drones Can Deliver Your Packages for $1

Furthermore, subsection (a)(1) doesn’t seem promising.9 In the short term, the best bet is for Amazon to amend their 333 exemption to allow BVLOS operations while simultaneously working on a drone with a standard airworthiness certificate.

Problem with the airmen certification

The FAA has exemption powers10 but “does not possess the authority to exempt from the statutory requirement to hold an airman certificate, as prescribed in 49 USC § 44711.”11  For the near term, that means all the pilots are going to have to have some type of pilot license and most likely a Part 11 exemption.

Furthermore, this creates a weird scenario because Amazon might be limited to only using private pilot certificated individuals who also hold an instrument rating, while their Section 333 exemption buddies can be operating line of sight commercially with as little as a sport certificate.

Going forward, the FAA will have to create some type of BVLOS rating add-on for their unmanned aircraft operator certificate in the NPRM to really scale their operations. This could take years before a BVLOS add-on could become a final rule.

Footnotes

1. Aneroid wafer altimeters do have altimeter errors which lead to the ubiquitous phrase “high to low (pressure or temperature), look out below!” indicating that high to low pressure or temperature will show an altimeter setting HIGHER than what you actually are. For example, flying from a cold front to a warm front without changing your altimeter barometer setting you could potentially have an indicated altitude of 500ft while you are actually at 450ft above the ground.

2. Private pilots are required to demonstrate on their check rides that they can hold an altitude during maneuvers within plus or minus 100feet.

3. Revising the Airspace Model for the Safe Integration of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems at page 2.

4. See 14 C.F.R. § 11.7,

5. 5 U.S.C. §§ 702, 706(2). See also United Steelworkers of Am. V. Marshall, 647 F.2d 1189, 1221 (D.C. Cir. 1980) where the court talked about the “logical outgrowth test” in evaluating the change between a proposed rule and a final rule.

6. 5 U.S.C. § 801.

7. 14 C.F.R. § 21.25 (b)(7).

8. “Is of a type that has been manufactured in accordance with the requirements of and accepted for use by, an Armed Force of the United States and has been later modified for a special purpose.”

9. See 2-2 for more explanation.  http://www.faa.gov/documentLibrary/media/Order/8110.56A%20.pdf

10. 49 U.S.C. § 44701(f); 49 U.S.C. § 44711(b); 14 C.F.R. Part 11.

11. Clayco, Inc. Exemption at page 11.

About the Author

Jonathan B. Rupprecht is a drone lawyer and a commercial pilot with single-engine, multi-engine, and instrument ratings. He is also an airplane flight instructor and instrument flight instructor. Jonathan obtained a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Magna Cum Laude, and a Juris Doctor from Florida International University School of Law.

Jonathan authored Drones: Their Many Civilian Uses and the U.S. Laws Surrounding Them. He later was an advisor for one of the amicus briefs for the highly publicized Huerta v. Pirker case. He co-authored a legal treatise on unmanned aircraft that is being published by the American Bar Association. Jonathan is currently practicing drone law in South Florida at his firm Rupprecht Law, P.A



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