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June 26, 2014

Amazon's Drone Fleet May Still Fly with New FAA Guidelines


It wasn't so long ago that Amazon first brought out word of Amazon Prime Air, a fleet of drone aircraft that could deliver small items—which was most of what Amazon had to offer in terms of sales in the first place—where ever said small items needed to go. It was an idea that both horrified and enchanted, but it was also an idea that looked like it would be shot down by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), who had a few things to say on the concept of drone aircraft zipping around from place to place and leaving small packages in the wake. But new guidelines address the issues of drones, and though it may sound like the drone fleet has been grounded, it may not be quite so cut-and-dried.

The new guidelines from the FAA were released, at last report, in response to a recent growing trend involving incidents between model aircraft—which were not specifically identified—and commercial aircraft. The model aircraft in question were said to be getting too close to the commercial aircraft, and that prompted a response. Portions of the FAA document, meanwhile, suggested a complete ban on drones in commercial use—which is pretty much exactly what Amazon Prime Air is—a point that was later cleared up, seemingly, by a combination of Amazon asserting that that just wasn't so and the FAA agreeing: the rule in question applies only to hobbyists.

But in order for Amazon to release that drone fleet and allow users to lay hands on a book or a DVD in a matter of hours instead of days, potentially, the FAA needs to develop drone delivery guidelines, which in turn require extensive testing, which is being done currently in six states. There isn't any update as yet on just how that testing is proceeding, so we may be in for a bit of a wait.

On the surface, it's a brilliant idea, and one whose time has really come around. Given how much of Amazon's stock weighs sufficiently little as to be ferried around via remote-controlled quadricopter or the like, being able to stick said orders onto a quadricopter and send said orders shooting around makes a lot of sense. One of Amazon's biggest losses against brick-and-mortar operations is immediacy; while a user may be able to save a few bucks buying a Blu-ray on Amazon, there's no way that user is watching that Blu-ray the same night, a development that Best Buy and the like can easily offer.  But if Amazon can match that, getting the Blu-ray in question to the user within hours of purchase, suddenly one of brick-and-mortar's last key advantages becomes shaky. Of course, drone deliveries have other advantages here—consider the pizza delivery drone—and where such advantages could be applied, like with other restaurants who are suddenly able to send food great distances in rapid fashion.

This doesn't mean an end to all brick-and-mortar operations, of course; it's still likely to be quite some time before Amazon can ready its fleet of drones and put said drones into operation. But it may be the beginning of the end, so brick-and-mortar firms which want to survive Amazon's potential onslaught should be preparing now to find a way to overcome this latest developing advantage.




Edited by Maurice Nagle

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