Drone delivery? There’s more to it than meets the eye

Posted on Jan 30, 2020 :: Partner
Posted by Kathy Close, transportation editor, J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

If you believe all the hype, we’re all going to get our packages delivered via drones. And while it is likely that package delivery via drone will play a role in last-mile delivery, it’s not as simple as a company purchasing drones and setting them loose.

The hype surrounding drones far outpaces the reality. There are some key factors that need to be understood when it comes to using drones for delivery.

FAA’s authority

Fleets considering drone delivery must understand that drones are not governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Rather, it is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that sets requirements for drone use, and it does not give permission to just anyone. Consider the case of United Parcel Service (UPS). The company worked with the FAA for a year before being awarded a certification that allows it to use drones on medical campuses. The FAA is in the process of reviewing requests from other companies wanting to use drones in commercial operations.

Obstacles to widespread drone use

Many obstacles hinder widespread drone use, including:

• Size and weight limitations of the packages drones can accommodate.

• Drone noise. Homeowner associations may ban drone delivery during certain hours of the day — or entirely — based on noise levels.

• Weather. High winds and freezing rains could ground drones and therefore delay delivery or cause fleets to resort to getting packages to customers in some other manner.

Certifying drone operators

Drones are technically called unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) by the Civil Aviation Organization, meaning they operate with no pilot on board. The FAA has adopted this name when referring to drones.

To operate a drone for non-recreational purposes, a drone operator (remote pilot) must take the following steps to obtain a Certificate of Authorization to be cleared to operate in U.S. airspace:

• Pass a knowledge test. The test must be taken at an FAA-approved test center.

• Fill out FAA Form 8710-13 to obtain the FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application.

• Create an account with the FAA and register the drone. Once registered, the drone must be marked with the registration number.

After taking flight

Once a pilot is certified and registered to operate a drone, the FAA will monitor the safe and legal operation of drones. The FAA’s Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations (Part 107) set the operating, registration, pilot certification, and airspace authorization requirements for drones. There are separate rules for pilots flying drones for business and those flying recreationally.

Key to remember:  Given all theinterest in conquering last-mile delivery, it is likely that drone use will grow, but not before drone operators jump over some hurdles and get familiar with a new governing body.

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Kathy Close is a transportation editor with J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. Her expertise includes transportation security, DOT drug and alcohol testing, driver qualification and the Compliance, Safety, Accountability enforcement model. She provides content for J. J. Keller clients, including manuals, the Transportation Security & Risk Management newsletter and online resources.