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FAA Reminds Us: The U.S. Has Approved One Commercial Drone Operator, And It's Not Amazon

The Federal Aviation Administration says it will establish drone regulations and standards in the coming years.

FAA Reminds Us: The U.S. Has Approved One Commercial Drone Operator, And It's Not Amazon

[Image: Flickr user H. Michael Miley]

After Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos revealed the online retailer's plans to deliver packages via drone on 60 Minutes, the Federal Aviation Administration released a statement Monday regarding the use of unmanned aircraft systems. The agency doesn't mention Amazon by name, but the timing—a day after the 60 Minutes segment aired—suggests the FAA is reacting to the company's news.

The FAA is committed to safe, efficient and timely integration of unmanned aircraft systems into our airspace. The FAA approves UAS operations by public entities on a case-by-case basis. So far, only a single commercial UAS operator has been approved to operate, and it is in the Arctic. UAS operators must abide by local, state and federal privacy laws. Over the next several years the FAA will establish regulations and standards for the safe integration of remote piloted UAS to meet increased demand. Autonomous UAS operation is not currently allowed in the United States.

The commercial operator the FAA is referring to is ConocoPhillips Alaska, which can use its drones to survey ocean ice and migrating whales in oil exploration areas as well as support emergency response crews. The FAA says it plans to select six unmanned aircraft system test sites by the end of the year to determine how to safely integrate drones into the national airspace, adding that it will propose a rule for small drones next year. In Sunday's 60 Minutes segment, Bezos said Amazon's at least four or five years away from drone deliveries.