The skies of the future will have to wait.
Federal regulators dealt a sudden—if somewhat expected—blow to fans of all things drones on Wednesday, admitting that the Federal Aviation Administration won't make its 2015 deadline to ready nonmilitary drones for integration into commercial airspace.
Officials informed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee that they will not reach a goal etched by a 2012 act of Congress to ready such aircraft for flight next year, an acknowledgement that is unlikely to surprise many in the drone industry who have grown accustomed to such delays.
"Underlying programmatic and organizational challenges that we have previously reported continue to impact FAA's ability to deliver NextGen capabilities as originally planned," said Calvin Scovel, inspector general for the Transportation Department. "While FAA has made progress … it has determined that it will not meet the September 2015 deadline for [drone] integration due to a series of complex technological, regulatory, and managerial barriers."
The FAA announced six test sites at the end of last year where researchers are developing and flying unmanned drones, barely meeting a deadline it had set to award contracts within 2013. The agency has repeatedly missed deadlines imposed by Congress guiding its progress of drone integration.
The delay will no doubt be cheered by privacy advocates, such as Democratic Sen. Edward Markey, who worry about the technological implications of drone technology.
Drones earned a remarkable surge in attention heading into the Christmas shopping season last year, as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos teased the potential for package delivery. Recent novel concepts for commercial drone use have included a beer delivery service in Michigan, which was grounded for violating the current ban on drones.
In November, the FAA released a road map detailing its five-year goals for drone integration. The agency said that it expected 7,500 unmanned aircraft to dot the skies within that interval, and that 30,000 could take flight by 2025.
"FAA [and] government generally, is being asked to do more with less," FAA chief Michael Huerta said during his opening remarks Wednesday. "Given the fiscal challenges we have seen in the past year and the continued difficult financial environment, we are going to have to have thoughtful conversations about how FAA should prioritize its role."