Australian startup Flirtey completed the first FAA-approved drone delivery in the US last week, carrying a package of medical supplies to a rural health clinic in Virginia. FAA regulations have until now banned such flights, but the FAA granted Flirtey an exemption for a joint venture it’s running with NASA and Virginia Tech university to deliver medical supplies to healthcare organisations in remote parts of the state.
Amazon and other companies have lobbied the FAA for more drone delivery exemptions, arguing that the current regulations are too strict. The regulations prohibit flying commercial drones beyond the line of sight of their pilot or operator.
The FAA is working on less stringent regulations for commercial drone flights that would allow drones to fly beyond their operators’ line of sight. Those new regulations could be finalised within a year, according to FAA officials testifying before Congress last month. Amazon has said that they will be ready to conduct drone deliveries as soon as the new regulations are enacted.
However, Flirtey’s delivery isn’t necessarily a sign that the FAA is ready to allow more drone deliveries. The FAA has consistently granted exemptions for drone uses that promote human health and safety, like inspecting parts of oil rigs that can be dangerous for humans to inspect. Flirtey’s delivery falls in line with this health and safety theme, and we expect that theme to drive more drone use cases in the short term than delivery of commercial products.