updated 05:10 pm EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
Public opinion request on model aircraft clarifies recreation, bars all commercial use
Amazon's fleet of drones may not be dropping packages on doorsteps anytime soon if the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gets it way. In a document asking for public comment on an interpretation on the "special model aircraft" rule, the FAA points out the difference between hobby and business ventures. As the rule applies to the use of drones, Amazon blue-sky drone proposal is left on the pad without being granted permission to take off.
As a way to point out what sort of flights would be considered as being of a hobby or recreational purpose, the FAA provided a simple table. The FAA sees the ability to move a box from point to point without imposing any monetary charge as a hobby. Delivering packages for a fee isn't considered recreation, nor can it be masked by a business by offering it as "free shipping." In a footnote, the FAA explained the difference.
"If an individual offers free shipping in association with a purchase or other offer, FAA would construe the shipping to be in furtherance of a business purpose, and thus, the operation would not fall within the statutory requirement of recreation or hobby purpose," states the document.
Even though Amazon isn't named directly in the document, the definition of what the FAA considers a hobby ends up excluding the company from flight. The document further excludes any commercial situation for their use. This means that farmers can't use them to find out crop areas in need of special attention, or allow realtors to take overhead property photos.
By clearing up the difference between business and hobby use of drones, the FAA is moving closer to an official ban on commercial drone flights. The organization has considered these drone flights illegal since 2007, but a court ruling in March overturned the regulations based on a lack of public comment. By seeking comments this time around, the FAA is looking to go through the proper channels to craft drone laws.