Free Market

Zipline Is a Glimpse Into What Drones Should Already Be Doing

Zipline, the latest drone delivery service to launch in Salt Lake City, is unlike the rest. Instead of a four-prop quadcopter that hovers in place, Zipline drones look more like airplanes with a fixed wing design that weighs up to forty pounds and can travel over fifty miles. 

But the fixed wing design and impressive range is where the differences end. Every commercial drone company, large and small, deals with the same headache of regulatory compliance with the FAA.

That is not to say, of course, that drone regulation is unwarranted. A clogged up airspace, buzzing with package delivery drones and quadcopters is far from ideal. But, as we have written in the past, the FAA already has a solution to regulating drones and managing air traffic at low altitudes — developed alongside commercial drone companies and the bright minds at NASA.

Nearly two years after the NASA partnership concluded, however, the FAA’s air traffic management (ATM) system is stuck in test mode. Companies hoping to launch a commercial drone operation are forced to apply for a waiver of the FAA’s regulations — often receiving one only if the company currently participates in the FAA’s ATM pilot program. 

Until the FAA moves forward with the full rollout of its air traffic management system, commercial drone innovators like Zipline and Wing Aviation — who have proven in other countries their ability to deliver emergency medical supplies to people stranded in remote locations, prescriptions to people living in rural areas, and much more — will be forced to offer consumers a scaled-back version of what’s already available in many other countries. 

It’s time for the FAA to let commercial drone companies compete with each other, leveraging their unique capabilities, unburdened by mismatched regulations and an unending regulatory waiver program that, after nearly a decade, only serves to gatekeep the industry.

~ Then I could finally write about cool new drone innovations. ~