As advancements continue to be made in drone technology, major companies like Google and Amazon are working to bring that technology to its delivery services. However, while most of the country looks forward to the future, it seems like Washington, D.C. will be left in the past, with these services unlikely to hit the area anytime soon.
Now you might ask: "Washington D.C. is one of the most important places in the U.S., so why would nearby residents not be able to receive drone delivery?" Well, in this case that importance which is often times D.C.'s boon has become its bane.
The District of Columbia, aside from being our nation's capital, is known for a distinct set of poltical issues that set it apart from other parts of the country. For example, despite being our nation's capital where every state sends its representatives, D.C. itself isn't classified as a state and therefore has no voting representation in Congress. Instead, residents elect a delegate to the House of Representatives, currently Eleanor Holmes Norton, who can't vote on the House floor. Similarly, it relies on money from Maryland and Virginia to fund its subway system - in fact, it doesn't have any form of dedicated funding sources like taxes or property assessment.
These unique circumstances extend to the tech space as well. D.C. is a no-drone zone, meaning that unless you meet specific guidelines or recieve specific FAA authorization, then all unmanned aircraft are prohibited from flying in the immediate area. This used to apply solely to manned aircraft in the wake of the 9/11 attacks but has since been expanded to include drones as well.
"The FAA instituted the Special Flight Rules Area rule for security reasons, and it still prohibits unmanned aircraft operations within 15 miles of Washington, D.C." without a specific exemption, the agency said.
The reasoning behind it - albeit frustrating for citizens in the area - is sound. Unmanned aircraft have an unparalleled ability to cause havoc, even unintentionally. They have been involved in various security incidents around the countr , and have even been seen buzzing around airports, power plants and sometimes private property. D.C. also found itself square in the middle of the drone controversy when one crashed on the White House lawn.
"The no-fly zone over D.C. is a tricky hurdle indeed, and I don't see it changing anytime soon," said Lisa Ellman, a lawyer in Washington at Hogan Lovells who focuses on unmanned aircraft policy.
Granted, advances have been made in geolocation and sense-and-avoid technology as evidenced by recent models, but even then their abilities in those fields are limited. Until that technology gets advanced to a point where regulators can safetly design smaller no-fly zones that target specific buildings or areas, it would be wiser to err on the side of caution.
In the meantime, while the rest of the U.S. enjoys their sweet drone deliveries, D.C. residents will simply have to settle for ground-based ones instead.