Before You Fly Off the Handle

Drone Box
Drone Box

Monday August 29, 2016

Today new FAA laws go into effect for UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) or the more common term, commercial drones.

According to CNN Money, today is a Landmark Day for Drones, not because packages will start flying out tomorrow, but because these official new laws open the door for innovation in shipping. Many shipping companies have been eagerly anticipating the release of the new rules, which they have known would go into affect end of August.

Some of the noteworthy rules are:

  • Commercial drones must weigh less than 55 pounds, fly up to a maximum altitude of 400 feet and no faster than 100 miles per hour
  • Commercial drones can only be operated during daytime, including up to 30 minutes before sunrise and after sunset. (After sunset flying requires a special waiver.)
  • Drone operators must have commercial drone pilots license and be at least 16 years old.
  • Drones must fly within line of sight of drone operator (at least for now.)
Drone Controller
Drone Controller

Mark Dennehy, president of Computer Assisted Testing Service, which administers the drone flying certification test, says the exam has “generated great excitement” as 3,351 people have already signed up to take the test. This is in addition to the more than 3,000 people who have already received a government exemption to pilot drones. These drone pilots who already have their drone flying license received it through a ‘very time consuming and pricey process’ according to CNBC. (Previously in order to fly a commercial drone, you had to already have a pilot’s license.)

As with all aircraft, FAA regulates rules on weight. In terms of shipping, each time a drone flies, the company in command of the drone would have to make sure the drone plus package are flying within the 55 lb. weight limit.

CNBC estimates that these new laws could generate $82 billion for the US, and generate 100,000 jobs over the next 10 years. Currently, the lack of laws in the US has forced US companies to outsource delivery operations to other countries.

Australia was one of the first countries to regulate UAVs (Unmanned Aeriel Vehichle). Currently, Australia and New Zealand already have limited drone delivery zones. And in Germany, DHL has been testing drone shipping.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 1.33.54 PM
Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 1.33.54 PM

What does this mean for ecommerce?

A number of US companies are already trying to figure out the best way to implement drone delivery in the US. Among them Amazon with Amazon Prime Air, FedEx, Google, U.S. Postal Service and Wal-Mart hopes to use it within it’s distribution centers.

Amazon Air
Amazon Air

If you are shipping highly fragile items, you might not want to entrust them to a drone who will be flying above the treeline. A whole new meaning to the term drop ship. Drones will be more practical when shipping providers can guarantee that they won’t accidentally drop the package on someone’s roof or tear up their front porch when landing it. Safety will be the primary obstacle to overcome to use drone delivery on a large scale.

And with all aircraft, it’s not the take off that poses the most risks, it’s the landing. A drone taking off from a manufacturer is the easy part. Landing it, without ruining a person’s pet, child or house is another set of problems entirely. I don’t know any dog that could resist a drone.

And if you’re not familiar with the dangers of drones, ask Enrique Eglesias who sliced his finger on a drone during a concert in front of thousands of fans:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlUkG2skXGc

I won’t drone on about this any longer.

Shipping options are important as some customers are basing their purchase on price, and others are basing it on speed. Online retailers are looking to thwart full cart syndrome, where shoppers abandon their purchase when they get to the shipping page. In terms of customer’s expectations on shipping costs, Amazon has set the bar pretty high with free two day shipping to it’s customers. Free. It is always hard to beat free. Same day drone delivery will be most practical in metropolitan areas, or areas where it won’t have to fly as far.

What does drone shipping mean for packaging companies and eCommerce? Lighter materials to stay under the 55 lb. limit? More durable packaging should it accidentally make a 400 ft drop? Helium lined cardboard? GPS tracking on packages should it slip into the wilderness?

Although the next year will unveil potential drone shipping problems, it will also provide exciting new shipping options. And in terms of packaging, this is cliche as it is literal, the sky's the limit!

image (23)
image (23)
Bags, Boxes, LogisticsCarol Reyes