The Wait for Private Drone Flight Just Got Longer

Beer-by-drone delivery is even further away than we hoped.

Demonstrators hold up a paper drone as they protest against the Munich Security Conference on February 1, 2014 in Munich, southern Germany.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
See more stories about...
Dustin Volz
Feb. 5, 2014, 12:37 p.m.

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.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4697) }}

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.”

What We're Following See More »
GOP Budget Chiefs Won’t Invite Administration to Testify
1 days ago

The administration will release its 2017 budget blueprint tomorrow, but the House and Senate budget committees won’t be inviting anyone from the White House to come talk about it. “The chairmen of the House and Senate Budget committees released a joint statement saying it simply wasn’t worth their time” to hear from OMB Director Shaun Donovan. Accusing the members of pulling a “Donald Trump,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the move “raises some questions about how confident they are about the kinds of arguments that they could make.”

Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
1 days ago

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
1 days ago

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
12 hours ago

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.