Air CargoLast MileLogisticsNew TechNewsSupply ChainsTechnology

Amazon now authorized to fly commercial delivery drones

Since its inception, Amazon has been obsessed with the idea of expediting its delivery operations. True to that, the e-commerce behemoth has received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval to operate its delivery drone fleets as part of its Prime Air brand.

The FAA issued Amazon Prime Air a Part 135 air carrier certificate using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), of which drones are a segment. “The FAA’s role is to ensure that any UAS operation is performed safely. The FAA supports innovation that is beneficial to the public, especially during a health or weather-related crisis,” said FAA in its statement. 

Amazon has long fostered high drone delivery ambitions, going as far as to patent an idea for beehive-like towers. These towers would work as fulfillment centers for its delivery drones to take off and land. The towers are visualized to be built to blend into high-rise structures in urban areas.

The newly issued drone license will give Amazon broad privileges that include carrying packages beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) of the operator. 

“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,” said David Carbon, vice president of Prime Air, in a statement. “We will continue to develop and refine our technology to fully integrate delivery drones into the airspace, and work closely with the FAA and other regulators around the world to realize our vision of 30-minute delivery.”

Amazon announced its plan for Prime Air delivery in 2013 and has seen several drone designs over the years. The primitive original designs have gotten incrementally better. Recent designs can fly noiselessly and have intelligent obstacle detection systems, which help them maneuver around objects like wires or birds.  

Last year, Amazon debuted its electric delivery drone, which can fly up to 15 miles and carry parcels of roughly 5 pounds — ideally to customers situated within a 30-minute flying radius. Amazon estimates that nearly 90% of all products sold on the platform weighed less than 5 pounds.

Amazon has yet to comment on which markets would see the first commercial delivery trials in the U.S. That said, the company has testing sites in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and the nearby Vancouver, British Columbia, area, which might be places Amazon would want to test the waters. 

While COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the economy, Amazon’s fortunes have risen. Consumers who usually would have shopped at brick-and-mortar retailers turned to e-commerce after cities went into lockdown for weeks. Amazon’s second-quarter results showed a doubling of profit from Q1 2020. To manage burgeoning demand, the company hired an additional 100,000 workers. However, if demand continues to rise, automating warehouses and using delivery drones would improve its bottom line further.

The drone delivery segment is witnessing a tight race, with several startups and larger companies vying for market share. For instance, Alphabet subsidiary Wing and UPS have already received FAA licenses and are working on their trials. While Wing delivers packages for FedEx and Walgreens, UPS is delivering prescription medicines for CVS in North Carolina. 


More from Vishnu Rajamanickam
Drones will land ecommerce deliveries in your backyard soon
How feasible are drones for last-mile delivery from a regulatory perspective? delivers books using drones in Indonesia during pilot run

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes FedEx (No. 1) and UPS (No. 2).