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Amazon's Delivery Drones May Face New Regulatory Roadblocks

Years of testing and still years away.
Image: Amazon

Consumer drones have become a pervasive part of our technological society. From endangering the lives of air travellers to actually saving lives in disasters, drones are everywhere—but how long until drones can deliver my damn Amazon order?

Still ages, unfortunately. As much of a hoo-ha Amazon has made out of its Prime Air delivery service over the past two years, the idea of using drones to deliver orders (aside from PR stunts like this pizza delivery) just keeps hitting hurdles.


Amazon's Prime Air efforts are centered in the United Kingdom, where the company can avoid strict US Federal Aviation Authority rules on flying drones out of a pilot's line of sight. But this week, according to The Times, Britain's new transport secretary Chris Gayling warned that delivery drones do indeed pose a safety risk, and that they need to be "handled with great care" before flights are allowed.

"I think perhaps I have got a little less enthusiasm for a completely liberal market on unmanned aircraft and drones around the country than one or two of my predecessors," The Times cited Gayling as telling an audience at the Airport Operators Association annual conference in London yesterday.

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The comments mark a disjuncture from the Department for Transport's original cooperation with Amazon on its drone testing. Grayling was appointed to his position by Britain's new Prime Minister Theresa May in July, and contended he is not against drones but doesn't want to see them "become a real ongoing problem." Motherboard has requested further comment from both Amazon and the Department for Transport.

Great Britain is at the heart of Amazon's Prime Air ambitions, where company has been testing its Prime Air service since July 2016. But setbacks in working with a government that views delivery drones as more dangerous than beneficial, and a government that may add more regulatory hoops to the delivery drone process, won't help Amazon at all, and will only add to lengthy research and development phases.


FOIA documents hosted on the CAA's website appear to show that Amazon test flights have been in fact been happening in the UK since summer 2015, longer than many were originally aware of. The revelation increases the time span it is thought Amazon was testing drones in the country, and only goes to show what a drawn out process Amazon's testing phase will be.

"The CAA visited an Amazon UK test flying site in June 2015 in order to witness a test flight of the current aircraft and to discuss in outline the next stages based on the application that the company had recently submitted," said the CAA.

Emails between CAA and Amazon also show that Amazon executives held a meeting with CAA officials as far back as November 2014, where Amazon's initial drone delivery plans were outlined to the CAA.

The very fact that Amazon has actually been testing its drones in the UK for more than two years, yet still has yet to make a public show or display of the technology, highlights the long wait ahead before delivery drones become a feasible reality. If Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wants to hit is target of delivery drones debuting in the four to five years he estimated back in 2013, Amazon had better get a move on.

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