The Federal Aviation Administration's new rules for flight of commercial drones weighing under 55 pounds, which include requirements for pilot licensing among other regulations, went into effect today.
The first commercial drone pilot licensing exam was scheduled for 8:00 a.m. ET Monday, and according to CNNMoney, more than 3,300 people signed up to take the exam.
Government officials still have not decided on rules for many commercial drone flight applications, such as automated package delivery outside of a pilot's line of sight, and flight of drones weighing more than 55 pounds.
For a set of rules that was approved about four years after the original deadline, the federal government suddenly seems to have a sense of urgency to actually put its drone guidelines into practice, doing so about two months after they were approved. It's an important day in the evolution of regulated commercial drone flight, and worth noting that an industry that had been regarded with comparisons to the Wild West now has a bit more orderliness and organization to it.
However, there is so much about commercial drone regulations that the government has yet to address. Particular to the retail industry's interests, the federal government still needs to issue guidelines for drone delivery services.
Companies such as Amazon have been testing delivery drones for a while now, and Amazon even tried to soothe concerns of regulators and others by developing a drone flight safety program. Other retailers have tested drones, too, and 7-Eleven recently surprised the sector with the first-ever FAA-approved retail drone delivery, but for now, the retail industry is limited mostly just to conducting more of these tests.
While commercial drone hopefuls wait for the FAA to further flesh out its drone regulations to address things like retail delivery, Amazon is looking to other markets like the U.K. to further its drone program progress. The White House recently talked supportively of drone services, and even announced that Google's drone delivery program would get an FAA-approved test later this year. However, no details were given about when that test would take place.
Sorting out how retail delivery drone services will work probably is no easy business. If it were easy, the sky might be flooded right now with delivery drones from Amazon, Wal-Mart, Google and other retailers and e-commerce companies. And that vision may be the source of further delays.
The feds are saying they are being urgent, though inaction on the drone delivery drone suggests they are being cautious, and you have to wonder if there is a little bit of fear involved, too. They want to try to figure out a controlled way to get this market up and running, but if they wait too long, they also risk making the U.S. look like a bit of a delivery drone backwater.