For years, transportation companies have touted the potential of automated drone deliveries, promising better, more efficient service. We are now one step closer to seeing that vision become a reality, after a couple of recent landmark deliveries.

On Nov. 1, 2019, UPS used a drone to deliver two prescription medications from a CVS store in Cary, North Carolina, to paying residential customers. For each delivery, the drone flew autonomously from the CVS to the correct address, then dropped the package from a hover height of about 20 feet. During the trips, an operator monitored the aircraft remotely as a precaution.

UPS is touting this as a first-of-its-kind delivery, saying never before has a drone delivered a personal prescription to a paying customer at their home. The company received permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in October to fly commercial drones. They’ve previously tested business-to-business deliveries of medical supplies.

Drone delivery regulations

Drone delivery, although it shows promise, is still a nascent industry, one with many unanswered questions. The FAA is being quite cautious about handing out commercial drone delivery certifications, saying its top priority is safety.

Currently, interested companies have to go through a multi-phase certification process to operate commercial drones, in which they submit an application and go through both a design and performance assessment. If the FAA deems the applicant “fully capable of fulfilling his/her responsibilities” under the law, then they can issue the applicant a certification.

The FAA represents only one hurdle for hopeful drone businesses, however. There are many regulatory questions that remain unanswered, the New York Times has pointed out, including:

  • Whether drones can be flown outside a pilot’s line of sight
  • Whether they can be flown above people
  • How many drones an operator can oversee at once
  • Whether drones should be able to operate at night

It’s a near certainty more regulatory questions will bubble to the surface as the technology progresses. For businesses, this means it is vital to do your due diligence. Scrutiny is high and rules are constantly at risk of shifting. You can’t afford to make a mistake that sets you back.