After lagging behind other countries for years, commercial drones in the U.S. are expected to begin limited package deliveries within months, according to federal regulators and industry officials.
The momentum partly stems from stepped-up White House pressure, prompting closer cooperation between the government and companies such as Amazon.com Inc . seeking authorizations for such fledgling businesses. The upshot, according to these officials, is newfound confidence by both sides that domestic package-delivery services finally appear on the verge of taking off.
At least 10 FAA-approved pilot programs for various drone initiatives—some likely including package delivery—are slated to start by May. Separately, industry and government officials have indicated that Amazon, widely considered one the most aggressive and furthest advanced applicants, is pushing for safety approval of detailed drone designs, as well as precise operating rules.
Amazon officials declined to provide details. But Gur Kimchi, vice president of the company’s package-delivery organization called Prime Air, expressed confidence that necessary approvals would be secured before the end of the year.
Earl Lawrence, who runs the FAA’s drone-integration office, had a similar upbeat message. Airborne deliveries may be “a lot closer than many of the skeptics think,” he told last week’s gathering. Some experimental efforts already are under way and “they’re getting ready for full-blown operations,” he said in an interview. “We’re processing their applications,” and “I would like to move as quickly as I can.”
During last week’s conference, FAA officials urged startups and established industry players alike to submit a variety of proposals, repeatedly using the catchphrase “the FAA is open for business.”
Amazon, for instance, has said its long-term goal is to pick up packages weighing a maximum of 5 pounds from distribution centers and whisk them to customers within a 20-mile radius. Navigating safely over populated areas and landing in pinpoint locations remain two of the most difficult challenges.
Along with General Electric Co., Google and a handful of other aerospace and Silicon Valley companies, Amazon has sketched out principles for a separate, low-altitude traffic-control network intended to be funded and run by a fast-growing industry encompassing more than 10,000 drone-related companies and 70,000 registered commercial aerial vehicles.
Going to Happen
Local regulators will moan about noise, safety, visual pollution near parks, and numerous other things. But it's going to happen.
“We face tremendous congestion on the roads, but we have virtually unlimited capacity above us,” said Brian Wynne, president of the industry’s largest trade association. “Why wouldn’t we use that?”
Congratulations to Trump for moving ahead with this. Deliveries will be faster and cheaper than before.
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Here's the question: How many pizza delivery guys and gals just lost their jobs?
Mike "Mish" Shedlock