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Amazon Gains Federal Approval to Trial Delivery Drones in the US

David Paul

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Amazon drones

The company is one of only a handful certified by the US Government to operate as a ‘drone airline’.

E-commerce giant Amazon has received approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to begin trials of its “Prime Air” delivery drones.

Amazon has logged thousands of flight hours in preparation to gain certification, with the goal of making air deliveries in 30 minutes or less.

The company says it will now begin its own delivery tests, although failed to state where and when these would take place.

The FAA said that Amazon will be permitted to carry packages “beyond the line of sight” of the operator and deliver them “safely and efficiently” after designating Amazon Prime Air an “air carrier.”

In a statement, Prime Air vice president David Carbon commented: “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.

“We will continue to develop and refine our technology to fully integrate our delivery drones into the air space,” he said.

Amazon is one of several companies hoping to use drones for delivery. Google’s Wing and the United Parcel Service have also received FAA approval. Several smaller companies are still looking to be cleared by the authority.

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Drones have been previously trialled by Amazon in the UK, with a Prime Air drone successfully delivering its first item in Cambridge in 2016.

However, there were limits to the drone’s capabilities at the time. Only two customers were eligible to be part of the trial as they owned large gardens, as well as living close to an Amazon depot and purchasing items weighing less than 2.6kg.

Similarly, drones have recently been tested in Scotland during the Covid-19 crisis to help isolated communities by drone company Skyports.

In May, equipment including face masks and Covid-19 testing kits were flown between the Lorn and Islands Hospital in Oban and the Mull and Iona Community Hospital at Craigmure on the Isle of Mull.

Commenting on the drone usage, Joanna Macdonald, chief officer for the social care partnership, said: “The use of drones provides real opportunities to improve services and will help enable quicker diagnosis for our patients. We are excited to be working with Skyports in the design of this new service.”

The company said the two-week trial represents a “crucial milestone” for unmanned aviation in the UK and could prove the long-term viability of drone delivery services.

David Paul

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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