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A peek at the secret English farm where Amazon tests Its drones; Rose Law Group litigation attorney Logan Elia, who works on drone compliance issues, weighs in

A prototype delivery Amazon drone is pictured.
A prototype delivery Amazon drone 

By Mark Scott | The New York Times

After hours of searching, I pulled onto a dirt track here in the rolling hills of Cambridgeshire and spotted a small dot whirring across the blue sky, gently swaying in the breeze as it steadily flew about 200 feet above the ground.

Jackpot: It was an Amazon drone.

Barely visible to the naked eye, the unmarked aircraft, about the size of a large model plane, floated across a field about 1,000 yards in the distance, the lights on its four-pronged sensors flashing brightly against the afternoon sun.


“This summer, the FAA promulgated new rules governing the flight of commercial drones. Although the new rules removed some legal impediments to drone operation, the regulatory stance remains extremely prohibitive. Drone operators face two significant legal difficulties: FAA and local regulations. This has caused many innovators to send drone jobs overseas.

“Unfortunately, the FAA outright prohibits the flight of drones beyond the unaided line of sight of drone operators. Federal law imposes a generally applicable requirement that, during flight, “vigilance shall be maintained by each person operating an aircraft so as to see and avoid other aircraft.”  In interpreting this law, the FAA has determined drone operators must only operate drones within their visual-line-of-sight. The FAA specifically rejects the use of simultaneous first-person video flight equipment to meet this visual-line-of-sight. As a practical matter, this interpretation of the law prohibits meaningful commercial done use or testing.

 “Secondly, drone operators face a patchwork of state and local restrictions on flight. Although the FAA has urged states to adopt uniform regulation consistent with federal law, this has not yet occurred. It is likely state regulation promoting the free use of drones is necessary before commercial drone use can become a reality. This is true partly because of the cost of complying with a patchwork of changeable regulations is extremely high.

“States wishing to embrace emergent drone technology may seek to promote drone use faster than FAA regulations. It is possible that states may promote the efficient use of drones by enacting a sensible regulatory structure, even if that structure is more relaxed than FAA regulations. We have seen similar tension between state and federal law in the area of medical and recreational marijuana, where many states have lead national policy. A similar approach may be possible in drone law, especially because the federal government’s authority to regulate drone flight is only recently asserted and somewhat poorly supported.”

~ Logan Elia

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October 2016