To many it seemed like little other than an attention-grabbing publicity stunt, even a joke, and for a while sceptics were proven correct. Amazon’s grand plan to fly orders to customers using small drone aircraft, so they get their items as quickly as possible, was at first turned down by the authorities. Now, with approval being granted for test flights in the United States, that’s all changed.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it had issued an experimental airworthiness certificate to Amazon for its unmanned aircraft design to be used at this stage for research and development. The company’s craft must be operated by a qualified pilot and must be in their line of sight at all times. Amazon will be required to provide monthly feedback to the FAA, including the number of flights conducted and if there were any hardware or software issues during them.
“Under the provisions of the certificate, all flight operations must be conducted at 400 feet or below during daylight hours in visual meteorological conditions,” the FAA said in announcing its decision.
If the pilot project is successful and Amazon takes to the air en mass with its tiny craft, it will mean a sea change for logistics and parcel delivery and solve one of the most frustrating aspects of buying online; waiting for your purchases to arrive. Delivery companies, from giants such as DHL to smaller firms, will be watching developments to see how it may impact on their businesses and if they can also use the technology.
European regulators are not being left behind in this nascent aviation sector either. The European Aviation Safety Agency has issued framework guidelines for regulations on the use of drones and wants them to be drawn up by the end of the year.
Already, it’s estimated that there are close to 2,500 drone operators in Europe, the largest number anywhere in the world. This has led some analysts to suggest that Amazon and others may start their drone-delivery operations in the EU instead of the US.
“Drones offer new services and applications going beyond traditional aviation and offer the promise to perform existing services in a more affordable and environmentally friendly way. They are a truly transformational technology,” the EASA said.