Amazon: Don't worry, our drones are still preparing for takeoff

FAA releases guidelines that explain when hobbyists can fly drones legally. Amazon says rules won't ground drone delivery fleet.

Donna Tam Staff Writer / News
Donna Tam covers Amazon and other fun stuff for CNET News. She is a San Francisco native who enjoys feasting, merrymaking, checking her Gmail and reading her Kindle.
Donna Tam
2 min read

An Amazon prototype package-delivery drone flying through the sky. CBS

If you're hoping Amazon will deliver your favorite toothpaste via drone -- in 30 minutes or less -- take heart that the government has yet to shoot down the e-commerce giant's plans.

New guidelines released by the Federal Aviation Administration this week over unmanned drones led to some confusion about the legality of Amazon's proposed drone fleet, the company said Tuesday.

"This is about hobbyists and model aircraft, not Amazon," said Mary Osako, a spokeswoman for the Seattle-based company. The rule, she said, doesn't apply to commercial entities such as Amazon and "has no effect on our plans."

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced PrimeAir in December, describing a service that will allow shoppers to receive small packages weighing five pounds or less via drone. But the proposed PrimeAir shipping service won't take off until the FAA determines how to regulate unmanned drones for commercial purposes. Bezos has said he doesn't expect those regulations to be released until 2015.

On Monday, though, the FAA released guidelines it said were in response to a recent spate of accidents involving unnamed model aircraft, and not commercial drones, flying dangerously close to commercial airplanes. Language in the FAA document suggests there's a ban on the use of drones for paid delivery services such as PrimeAir. Amazon says that's just plain wrong, and the FAA agrees that PrimeAir doesn't fall under those guidelines.

The rule applies only to hobbyists and was meant to clarify what services are considered legal and what are not within that category, FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown told CNET. For hobbyists, "using a model aircraft to move a box from point to point without any kind of compensation," is OK, according to the guidelines, while accepting a fee for delivery services is not.

Brown said the rule doesn't affect Amazon's current plans for a drone delivery fleet in the US. The FAA's process for developing drone delivery guidelines includes extensive testing in six sites throughout the US. Brown said she didn't have an update on the progress of that testing.