Amazon Gets FAA Clearance To Launch Drone Delivery Trials

Retail giant Amazon will trial deliveries by drone later this year. The FAA recently gave Amazon the tick of approval to test the delivery method out. Don’t expect your latest order to get dropped on your doorstep by drone anytime too soon. But this highly controlled trial does bring it one step closer.

The FAA has cleared Amazon to trial deliveries by drone. Photo: Jordan Stead / Amazon

FAA clears Amazon to trial drone deliveries

Alan Levin, writing for Bloomberg, reported the news earlier on Monday. He said the FAA had recently designated Amazon Prime an “air carrier”. That designation will allow Amazon to trial drone deliveries under controlled conditions. Amazon is not the first business to use drones for deliveries. United Parcel Service and Wing are also trialing drone deliveries at locations in the United States.

“This certification is an important step forward for Prime Air and indicates the FAA’s confidence in Amazon’s operating and safety procedures for an autonomous drone delivery service that will one day deliver packages to our customers around the world,” Bloomberg reported an Amazon spokesperson saying.

Amazon will begin trialing the drone deliveries at an undisclosed location in the United States. It’s going to be controlled and operate under intense scrutiny. Expect weight and distance limitations as Amazon and the FAA use the trial to iron out the kinks.

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Amazon has a long history of innovation when it comes to deliveries. Photo: Amazon

Amazon and the FAA work together to resolve obstacles

While it’s a neat idea that could potentially revolutionize the delivery process, it won’t all be clear air for Amazon. They need to demonstrate that drone delivery is safe. Nobody wants drones crashing, parcels inadvertently getting dropped, or cat’s tails getting clipped during the delivery process. But for the proposal to make sense financially, Amazon needs these drones to operate with a high level of autonomy.

While drone flights come under the control of the FAA, the safety watchdog’s rules and regulations come from a different era. Bloomberg notes that Amazon had to seek an FAA waiver regarding the use of Flight Attendants on some flights. That’s because current FAA regulations assume all flights are manned. For future drone flights to operate smoothly, regulations will need to be updated.

This trial is taking place because the FAA was willing to work with Amazon to overcome longstanding regulations that could have grounded the flights before they took off. The FAA says it wants to embrace innovation while maintaining its focus on safety. In the future, the FAA will need to look at issues like autonomous flights, a new air-traffic system to track low-altitude drone flights, noise controls, overflight of crowds and houses, and drone identification.

Amazon has a lot of faith in its MK27 drone, only unveiled last year. Photo: Jordan Stead / Amazon

Amazon has a lot of faith in its drones

It’s been barely 12 months since Amazon unveiled its MK27 drone at the MARS 2019 conference. At the time, Amazon got FAA clearance to fly its MK27 drone for research and development and crew training in specified zones.

Amazon talked up the MK27’s capabilities and sensors, including visual, thermal, and ultrasonic sensors. Those sensors fed data to a sophisticated sense-and-avoid system. Amazon said the drone was safe and predictable, able to pick up and avoid people, pets, clotheslines, electricity lines, and cars.

At the time, the drones were flying up to 15 miles and dropping off parcels weighing under 5 pounds. The process was taking less than 30 minutes. Amazon also noted that most of their deliveries already weigh less than 5 pounds.

There are a few hurdles to overcome before we see drones emblazoned with Prime Air logos buzzing down the street. But there’s also a kind of inevitability about it. It’s a hugely exciting area and something well worth keeping a close eye on.