What The FAA Thinks Of Google’s Drone Delivery Plan

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Google announced it has been secretly testing its unmanned drones in hopes that they will soon drop goods on customers’ doorsteps. But while the potential service is in its infancy, it could struggle to get off the ground with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) plan to impose more regulations. A conversation between ThinkProgress and an FAA spokesperson suggested Google faces a few more hurdles before its plan becomes a reality.

Google has been quietly building an army of drones through its Project Wing research program set to rival Amazon’s Prime Air and deliver packages faster, according to an exclusive report from The Atlantic Thursday. Amazon, Google and Netflix have long talked about using delivery drones to make online ordering as instantaneous as buying an item in a brick and mortar store.

But the tech companies still have to get cleared by the government before drone delivery comes to fruition. Tech companies and drone enthusiasts can now freely use drones as long as they’re for recreational use, but have to get special authorization to use FAA-certified drones for any other reason, an FAA spokesperson told ThinkProgress.

The FAA has been in talks with Google about its drone program, which is in very preliminary stages and at least several years away from being operational. But even to test drones in the U.S., Google has to get special permission, the FAA spokesperson said.

The FAA currently has over 30 special requests, including one from Amazon for its Amazon Prime Air program. Google hasn’t yet filed an application and is testing Project Wing in Australia.

Drone technology still gained popularity among scientists, photographers, and filmmakers under the ban, but tighter regulations are in the works. While the FAA couldn’t comment on specifics, the agency plans to release a set of proposed rules and standards later this year to regulate the flying of unmanned or model aircraft and lay the framework for commercial drone use, the spokesperson said. The goal is to slowly expand commercial use in controlled settings, such as filming on closed movie sets.

Drones only recently became “legal” to fly. Earlier this year, a judge lifted a seven-year FAA ban imposed on flying unmanned or model aircraft for commercial use. Before it was overturned, the FAA struggled to enforce the ban, which let the agency dole out fines and warning letters rather than make drones illegal. For example, the FAA fined Raphael Pirker $10,000 for recklessly flying a drone on the University of Virginia’s campus in 2011.