Many online retailers are exploring how to use drones to quickly deliver online orders to customers. In June 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) issued a final rule permitting flights by commercial drones under certain conditions, including the drone and its cargo weigh less than 55 pounds and the drone stays within sight of the pilot. While the rule was a welcome step forward for the commercial drone industry, the operational restrictions prohibited drones to fly over any populated areas due to safety concerns, essentially forbidding commercial drones in most urban areas.
Flying drones over populated areas or flying drones at night, each of which are integral components of drone delivery services, require a waiver by the FAA under the existing rule or the adoption of a new set of rules. The FAA initially set a deadline of the end of 2016 to issue an additional final rule allowing commercial drone flights over people, which they failed to meet. The FAA plans to release a proposed rule prior to the final rule in order to allow law enforcement and other federal agencies to provide their comments regarding drone safety concerns. However, the FAA may face further delays in issuing new rules under the new administration. The Trump Administration has put a hold on the issuance of all new federal regulations pending review by the White House, and, on January 30, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order requiring two federal regulations to be withdrawn for every new regulation proposed.
The commercial drone industry has been patiently awaiting new regulations that expand the scope and permissiveness of commercial drones. Until the FAA issues new rules, progress in this area may be limited, and retailers may not be able to use drones for delivery services as soon as they initially hoped.