FAA: Yale-Based Drone Delivery Service Violates Federal Law

Kiki Air uses an app to let students order candy, snacks and other items, which then are dropped off at selected locations on campus. But Federal Aviation Administration officials say no waivers have been issued.

by Ed Stannard, New Haven Register / February 19, 2020
Shutterstock/F11Photo

(TNS) — The student-run business that has been delivering food and other items to Yale University’s campus with drones apparently is operating in violation of federal law.

Kiki Air uses an app to let students order candy, snacks and other “essential” items, which then are dropped off at selected locations on campus.

However, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday the business has not received waivers to fly above people or to fly within 5 miles of Tweed New Haven Regional Airport.

“If they’ve been flying, they’ve been violating federal law,” the spokesman, a contractor with the FAA’s unmanned aircraft system support center, alleged. The spokesman, who said he could not give his name, said he would be forwarding the case to the FAA’s Bradley Flight Standards District Office in Enfield.

A Yale spokesman has said the business is operating on a trial basis through March 6.

FAA regulations prohibit flying over people or flying in Class D airspace. According to the FAA spokesman, “the rule of thumb is about a 5-mile radius around the airport. All of the Yale campus is covered by Class D airspace.” Yale’s Environmental Health & Safety policies and procedures also prohibit flying in these conditions.

Kiki Air has been granted a waiver to fly at night, which was granted Feb. 10, the FAA spokesman said. He said a waiver to fly over people was requested on Feb. 4, and that the FAA generally takes 90 days to decide whether to grant it.

However, he said, “Frankly, operations over people is very rarely granted.” Since 2016, the FAA has received more than 5,500 requests for a waiver, and 106 have been granted. Possible reasons for a waiver would be if the drone is equipped with a parachute or made to break apart if it falls onto something.

The spokesman said the company on Monday requested a waiver to operate in Class D airspace. This request also takes 90 days to adjudicate, he said.

Other FAA requirements include having a remote pilot’s certificate, registering any drone between 0.55 and 55 pounds with the agency, and ensuring the drone operator has a direct view of the drone at all times. Yale also requires drones to fly no higher than 200 feet so they don’t interfere with helipads at the two Yale New Haven Hospital campuses.

Kiki Air’s founder, Yale senior Jason Lu, said the company started as a class project and has won a $150,000 grant from Y Combinator, a California-based investor in startups.

The Yale Daily News reported that video footage shows a drone falling onto Library Walk, a pedestrian path between Branford and Jonathan Edwards colleges, last Thursday. Co-founder Cat Orman, a Yale sophomore, said it was a “controlled landing,” according to the News. The student newspaper said the company has since changed drop-off locations and given pilots more training.

Representatives of Kiki Air did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Yale spokeswoman Karen Peart issued a statement saying, “Kiki Airlift, Inc., is a student-run business startup that is not affiliated with the university. Under strict guidelines, the university has agreed to a trial period for the company to provide deliveries that ends on March 6.”

She said the students asked for permission to fly over campus locations and were given

“approved times, operating protocols, safety controls, and a list of approved locations for delivery drops,” which do not include any residential college spaces.“The university will determine if the program can continue after the trial period ends,” Peart said.

©2020 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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