Amazon Drones: The gap between vision and regulation

On Sunday’s 60 Minutes interview, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the company’s plans to offer drone deliveries within 30 minutes, igniting discussion filled with excitement and questions. On the forefront, is the issue of when we can expect to see Amazon’s drones on the horizon.

In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently devising rules for integration of drones into the domestic airspace, with a view to enabling commercial use by 2015. Although the FAA rules will certainly open up the airspace to commercial drones, it has yet to be determined whether the framework will enable applications like Amazon’s.

In Canada, commercial drones are already in use, however each operation must be approved by Transport Canada through the issuing of a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC). In order to be approved, the applicant must complete a risk assessment and outline steps that will be taken to mitigate the risks to an acceptable level. Normally, it takes at least 20 days to obtain a SFOC, and in many cases (especially for first-time applicants) the process is longer. The Canadian regulations are also under review, as the UAS Program Design Working Group is set to make recommendations for amending aviation regulations by 2017.

Regulators on both sides of the border will have a difficult task ahead – balancing innovation and safety. Hopefully, the new regulations that are set to come out in Canada and the US will not stifle commercial applications like Amazon’s.

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