Drone delivery infographic: Promises and pitfalls

Domestic no-fly zones could curtail air delivery

Credit: Amazon

Federal regulators will likely ban drone delivery in special-use airspace. Credit: Amazon

There are a number of factors that threaten to ground Amazon CEO Jeffrey Bezos’ lofty idea to deliver packages by drones before the idea even gets off the ground. But amid concerns about city deliveries, bird collisions and theft by hackers, one factor that hasn’t been talked about all the much are the rules of the sky, specifically the no-fly zones within our borders.

Pilots know these areas as special-use airspace, and there are several different kinds dotting the flight maps of the United States. Prohibited airspace is the easiest to understand as it simply bans all flights in the name of security. One such area protects Washington D.C. and would by all accounts eliminate the possibility of drone delivery to the entire city. The likelihood that federal regulators would make an exception for delivery drones in special-use airspace is slim considering how difficult it might be to distinguish them from look-a-likes deployed by a rogue nation or terrorist group.

Downed deliveries

Special-use airspace is more widespread than one might think. Restricted areas denote the existence of unusual, often invisible, hazards to aircraft, such as artillery firing, aerial gunnery or guided missiles. Penetration of restricted areas without authorization may be extremely hazardous. And while it might not be a big deal in the long run that the toaster you ordered from Amazon got shot down during a training exercise, where that toaster and the upended drone lands could be.

Bezos obviously has a lot to figure out for delivery drones to take off. The possibility is certainly fun to think about, at least. The following infographic we put together helps explain what it could look like and touches on other challenges that need to be addressed for the idea to truly soar.


Nick Clunn
Nick Clunn is a journalist covering the tech beat and an adjunct professor at Montclair State University. He lives in New Jersey, where he had worked as a staff writer for several leading daily newspapers and websites.
Nick Clunn
Nick Clunn
Tags: Downtime,Gadgets & Devices