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Don’t let Amazon take over our skies

Amazon envisions being able to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less using drones. Critics worry about privacy, noise and other concerns.
Amazon envisions being able to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less using drones. Critics worry about privacy, noise and other concerns. The Washington Post

Amazon has become part of the fabric of American society: We rely on the tech giant to provide two-day delivery of virtually any product; to produce movies and TV shows we discuss around the water cooler; and even to host the data of our companies. As a result, the company is one of the global economy’s largest.

But now, Amazon has overreached. In service of its fledgling drone delivery operation Prime Air, Amazon appears to be planning to force communities to accept drone flights at any time of day or night – and is working overtime to ensure that states and cities cannot protect their residents from drones.

The company’s recent proposal to purchase Whole Foods is part of a larger strategy to encroach upon American communities. If Amazon purchases the grocery chain, it isn’t buying stores – it’s buying a distribution network of droneports in the highest-value neighborhoods in America.

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Hayes

At first blush, Amazon’s vision for drone delivery sounds promising. Whatever you want, whenever you want it, can be yours in a matter of minutes. Run out of toothpaste before a job interview? Amazon can get it to you before you can even start to stress about being late.

But the way Amazon envisions this future is the opposite of utopian. What if instead of toothpaste, you want a pizza at 3 a.m.? What if you’re at home sleeping, and your neighbor is the one ordering the pizza? What if all of your neighbors are requesting deliveries, 24/7?

Drone manufacturers have yet to create a drone capable of delivering packages while operating at a decibel level that isn’t disruptive to communities. And besides noise, drones bring with them privacy, nuisance and trespassing concerns.

You might think your city council, mayor, or zoning board will jump into action when Amazon comes to town. You may expect them to set reasonable limits on the time, place, and manner of drone operations for drones where you live – like a ban on deliveries between midnight and 6 a.m. in suburban neighborhoods, for example.

Amazon plans to make sure that never happens. The company has asked Congress to grant Amazon – and other drone delivery companies – a special classification: air carrier status.

That would mean that Amazon’s drone flights would be protected by the same “federal preemption” that applies to airlines and other manned aircraft. Only the federal government would be able to make laws about where and when drones can operate – even in your neighborhood. Amazon could fly over your property, your kid’s school, and your city’s parks and sidewalks – and your community could do nothing to prevent it. As a pilot, I can tell you drones may be a lot of things; airplanes they are not.

Unelected officials in Washington should not be responsible for deciding what is safe for our communities or our citizens. A template from a top-down bureaucracy at the Federal Aviation Administration will never be able to properly enforce rules – rules that should be made by communities themselves.

In both houses of Congress, bipartisan legislation has been introduced to ensure that the rights of states and cities to make drone laws are protected. Under both proposals, local authorities could make reasonable drone rules under 200 feet, while the federal government would retain the authority to ensure the safety of national airspace and safeguard interstate commerce.

Amazon‘s CEO, Jeff Bezos, once wrote: “Don’t just listen to your customers, understand them.” It’s time for Mr. Bezos to understand that communities won’t sit by while Amazon lobbyists secure special privileges that potentially create problems for neighborhoods across the country.

Robin Hayes, a former congressman, is the chairman of the N.C. Republican Party.

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