The fly in the ointment
Dr. Eastvold outlined the significant barriers to adoption of drone-based delivery systems in the United States, ranging from differences in state laws about when, where, and how drones can be used and who can operate them, to Federal Aviation Administration airspace restrictions and regulations.
For example, the FAA currently requires “line-of-sight” operation only for most drone operators, meaning that the operator must have visual contact with the drone at all times. The FAA will, however, grant waivers to individual operators for specified flying conditions on a case-by-case basis, if compelling need or extenuating circumstances can be satisfactorily explained.
In addition, federal regulations require commercial drone pilots to be 16 years old or older, be fluent in English, be in a physical and mental condition that would not interfere with safe operation of a drone, pass an aeronautical knowledge exam at an FAA-approved testing center, and undergo a Transportation Safety Administration background security screening.
Despite these challenges, at least one U.S. medical center, Johns Hopkins University, is testing the use of drones for blood delivery. In 2017, they demonstrated that a drone could successfully deliver human blood samples in temperature-controlled conditions across 161 miles of Arizona desert, in a flight lasting 3 hours.
Mr. Kenney said that his company is developing a second distribution center in Rwanda that will expand coverage to the entire country and is also working with the FAA, federal regulators, and the state of North Carolina to develop a drone-based blood delivery system in the United States.