Amazon’s drone ‘win’ will prove fleeting

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Amazon is exploring the use of drones for package delivery.

Credit: Slavoljub Pantelic/

Late last week the FAA gave Amazon permission to move ahead with its experiments to develop a drone-driven package-delivery system.

Bottom line first: I believe this whole concept is ludicrous – which is an upgrade from my initial reaction: publicity stunt -- and that nothing like it will be an important package-delivery mechanism for Amazon or anyone else in our lifetimes. (Everything happens eventually.)

But just to play along, it would appear that the FAA’s biggest stipulations – the experimental drones must be operated by licensed pilots who must maintain line of sight contact with their craft – are deal killers if they prove permanent.

If you have a package and an employee close enough to a delivery point that the employee can see it, why on earth would you have that employee be operating anything more complicated than a panel truck or have skills any more advanced than a driver’s license? Perhaps you might if you are delivering something pricey to a coastal island or mountaintop, but not in any situation that would in any way be described as typical.

People familiar with the process of developing and licensing experimental aircraft note that these FAA stipulations are standard at this juncture. What’s not standard, however, is the apparent need for them to go away in order for this experiment to become an aviation and commercial reality.

Yet really smart people are apparently expending serious time and dollars trying to make this work. And that tells me I could well be wrong. Short-sighted wrong. Would not be the first time.

Now, if you take the pilot out of the equation entirely? Ditch the line-of-sight requirement? I’d still be 99 percent skeptical (instead of my current five 9’s).

But that has to be Amazon’s end game.

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