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Release the drones

AMAZON.COM Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos is working on a plan for drones - unmanned aircraft - to deliver packages to customers in urban areas, a program that promises to reduce his company's shipping costs and ultimately, the prices customers pay for goods.

Of course, it could be years before this plan is put into action, not because the technology is not yet right, but because the federal government bureaucracy is holding up the idea.

While many Americans are aware of drones because of the U.S. military's success in using them to spy on and kill terrorists in far away lands, drones also show tremendous promise in countless non-military commercial applications.

Media organizations could use drones for traffic and news coverage, pipeline and electric transmission companies could save millions using drones for right-of-way patrols, developers could use them for low-level aerial photography, and much more. The potential commercial applications are enormous.

But since 2007, the Federal Aviation Administration has said drones can't be used for commercial purposes.

"The technology has moved faster than the law has kept pace," said Brendan Schulman, special counsel at the law firm Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP in an Associated Press article.

Because of the FAA's overbearance, most advances in the commercial use have come out of Europe, Australia and Japan.

"The delay has really been to the disadvantage of companies here," Schulman said. "Generally, the government wants to promote the advancement of science and technology. In this case, the government has done exactly the opposite and thwarted the ability of small startup companies to develop commercial applications for this revolutionary technology."

Fortunately, the FAA's delay won't continue unabated. In 2012 Congress passed legislation for the FAA to write rules by 2015 that would govern the commercial operation of drones.

Here's hoping the FAA's rules encourage creative use of drones with little bureaucratic intrusion and allows the type of innovation that American aviators - in this case the unmanned type - are so well known for.

Better yet, Congress should move up the deadline so drone innovation happens sooner rather than later.


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