Amazon will begin delivering packages via drone to residents in College Station, Texas, later this year, the company announced Friday.
After nearly a decade of anticipation, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) last month announced that Prime Air drone deliveries would finally be getting off the ground in the town of Lockeford, California, later this year. It said “hundreds of residents” already have expressed interest in the service.
Now, Amazon customers in College Station should expect to hear from the company as it looks to add a second delivery hub. Amazon said it will work with both the city and institution that gave it its name, Texas A&M University, to launch the service in the coming months.
“Amazon’s new facility presents a tremendous opportunity for College Station to be at the forefront of the development of drone delivery technology,” said Mayor Karl Mooney. “We look forward to partnering with Amazon and Texas A&M and are confident that Amazon will be a productive, conscientious and accountable participant in our community.”
The news of Amazon drones coming to College Station is an even bigger deal than the initial announcement. While Lockeford has a population of about 3,500, College Station is a full-fledged city, with well over 100,000 residents. That will give Amazon a larger sample size with which to test its drones.
Prime Air drone deliveries will use Amazon’s latest model, the hexagon-shaped MK27-2. The aircraft boasts a top speed of 50 mph and can cruise at an altitude of up to 400 feet, Amazon said. It can deliver up to 5 pounds of payload within an hour.
The MK27-2 flies autonomously beyond the pilot’s visual line of sight, hovering above the customer’s residence and releasing the package directly into their backyard. Its ability to fly beyond the visible range is a perk granted to Amazon by the Federal Aviation Administration, which certified the drone under its airworthiness criteria in February.
While Amazon drone deliveries have arrived later than expected, the company’s relationship with the FAA is better than most other drone firms. In 2020, it became the third U.S. drone company after Alphabet’s Wing, UPS Flight Forward to receive a Part 135 air carrier certificate, allowing it to operate its fleet in American airspace. Bay Area-based Zipline became the fourth recipient of that designation last month.
Despite the freedom granted to Amazon by the FAA, controversy has plagued the company’s drones. In 2022 alone, reports surfaced that the company’s drone delivery arm had a turnover rate as high as 70% and that it suffered five test crashes in a four-month span. One of those ignited a 25-acre brush fire in Oregon.
While it would appear that Amazon’s drone delivery struggles are in the rearview mirror, trouble may already be brewing in Lockeford. Residents spoke to the Washington Post about their frustrations with the program, which many said took them by surprise. Some even threatened to shoot down the drones.
“I don’t want drones flying around my house — we live in the country,” Amazon customer Greg Baroni, who lives close enough to College Station to sign up for the service, told the Post.
Watch: Where is the future of drone infrastructure headed?
Area residents also have expressed concerns about the safety of drones in the heavily farmed Texas region.
“I have a large amount of livestock and horses, and a drone would easily frighten the animals,” Naydeene Koster told the newspaper. “Horses will run straight through a barbed wire or really any kind of fence when they think they’re in danger. I’ve seen horses kill themselves over a flying balloon, [so] I’d hate to see the damage a flying drone would cause coming into their area.”
Still other residents worry about the potential economic impact of the drones. Baroni and another College Station resident, Jennifer Hoy, said the service could take away jobs from people in the area.
With each misstep pushing Amazon further behind its rivals, the pressure to deliver has never been greater. Wing and UPS Flight Forward both launched expansive pilots during the pandemic — Wing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area and Flight Forward in North Carolina. Wing also is looking to expand into Virginia.
Meanwhile, Walmart (NYSE: WMT), which doesn’t have a drone delivery arm but partners with DroneUp, has been operating two hubs in Arkansas since last year. At the end of May, the retailer said it would add six states and around 4 million people to its drone delivery network this year.
Even outside of those big players, the competition is fierce. Smaller U.S. drone delivery startups. such as Flytrex, Zipline and Flirtey, all have launched dedicated pilots of their services. And that still doesn’t account for foreign companies working to capture the American drone delivery market, like Wingcopter, Matternet or Manna.
Amazon did not immediately respond to Modern Shipper’s request for comment.