FAA Shoots Down Amazon's Drone Delivery Plans

amazon prime air drone
Credit: Amazon.com

It's been a tough week for drones. The FAA told Amazon it cannot use unmanned drones to deliver packages, and Seattle police are investigating a "peeping Tom drone."

If you were hoping to see Amazon load up your new espresso machine on a drone and wing it to your house within 30 minutes of ordering it, you’ll hate this story. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has shot down Amazon’s plan to speed delivery by using a fleet of pilotless aircraft.  At least for now.

That’s not the only bad news for drone fans this week. Seattle police are looking for two men who may have used a camera-equipped drone to spy on a woman getting dressed in her highrise apartment.

“It was surreal. Initially I was kind of like, ‘Wow, what is that thing?’” Lisa Pleiss told ABC News today. “I stared at it for about thirty seconds and once I registered the cameras I felt very vulnerable.”

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Pleiss had the presence of mind to snap a picture of the aircraft — which she posted on Facebook, of course — and her building’s concierge grabbed a photo of two men rushing to pack up a video camera and tripod into a car. Did they break the law? You’d think so, but Seattle police say it isn’t clear what law would apply.

It isn’t likely that anyone from Amazon would engage in that sort of numbskull behavior, but the specter of a fleet of drones buzzing around a crowded city worries regulators. The FAA banned the unauthorized use of drones and model planes near airports, and now it's saying companies cannot use drones to deliver packages.

News of the thumbs down for delivery drones was tucked away in an FAA document detailing its polices on model aircraft. Flying drones for fun, or even using them to take pictures for personal use (voyeurism isn’t mentioned in the document), is fine, but delivering packages for a fee is not, according to the FAA. Even if Amazon does not charge a fee for delivery, items still can’t be shipped via drone, the FAA said. And realtors can’t use drones to take pictures of properties they’re trying to sell.

The FAA is currently reviewing its policy on drones and is accepting public comments. A permanent policy is expected sometime next year. In the meantime, keep your blinds drawn.

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