Update: Amazon said in a statement that this will not affect their drone project because it applies to hobby aircraft, rather than commercial planes. It is still likely years off from getting commercial approval.
See our follow-up story for more. The original story follows …
A new document by the Federal Aviation Administration distributed yesterday is seeking comment on its interpretation of special rules, which currently outlaws the commercial use of drones, or what it calls “model aircraft.”
Hobby or recreational purposes, such as flying a model aircraft for a club, or flying over a crop to determine whether the fields needed water for personal enjoyment, are fine. But it draws the line at delivering packages for a fee or using model aircraft to take photos of a property for sale.
The FAA didn’t actually call out Amazon as an example, but it came as close as it can get.
For example, it said that “delivering packages to people for a fee” is not a hobby or recreation. Further, at the bottom of the page, it clarified that if an entity offers “free shipping,” it would still be construed that to be a business purpose.
Amazon announced the project “Amazon Prime Air” on 60 minutes in December. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said it might take years to implement the project, at least four or five optimistically, and admitted at the time that one of the biggest hurdles will be convincing the FAA that it’s safe.
According to Ars Technica, which first discovered the document, the commercial operation of drones has been illegal since 2007. But a federal judge in March said that it was illegal not to take public input before establishing those rules. The FAA is now collecting those opinions, and is supposed to potentially establish new rules by the end of 2015.
It’s unclear whether the FAA’s stance on the matter will change, and a couple recent instances will make a more lenient policy potentially difficult.
As we reported this morning, a building manager called police on Sunday after a Seattle woman spotted an unmanned aerial vehicle hovering outside the window of her apartment.
Interestingly, that man may not have broken any laws, assuming that he doesn’t plan to sell the photographs, and he maintained line of sight with the aircraft at all times. Additionally, it is legal to take photographs and videos from public spaces. (Readers of GeekWire may know this based on our past coverage of the so-called “Creepy Cameraman.”)
Last week, The National Park Service instituted a temporary ban inside the 401 National Parks and Monuments in the U.S. And last summer, then Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn pulled the plug on a controversial drone program that was to be instituted by the Seattle police department.