Amazon Gets FAA Approval to Test Drone Deliveries

The ecommerce giant is one step closer to 30-minute deliveries

amazon drone
In terms of regulatory approvals for drones, Amazon is finally on par with UPS and Wing Aviation. Amazon
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The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued Amazon Prime Air a Part 135 air carrier certificate for using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), clearing a big regulatory hurdle toward drone deliveries for commercial packages.

Amazon said it will use the certification to begin tests, with the goal of using drones to deliver packages within 30 minutes from the time an order is placed.

In its feedback about the certification, Amazon heavily stressed safety, noting it developed over 500 safety and efficiency processes for its application. In addition to a fully electric drone, Prime Air now has what Amazon calls an industry-leading sense-and-avoid system, which it says means the drone “will make the safe decision, even when faced with the unexpected.”

The FAA also stressed safety in its comments.

“The FAA’s role is to ensure that any UAS operation is performed safely,” an agency spokesperson wrote in an email. “The FAA supports innovation that is beneficial to the public, especially during a health or weather-related crisis.”

Calling the certification “an important step forward for Prime Air,” David Carbon, vp of Prime Air, said 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.” 

The certification finally puts Amazon’s drone program on par with UPS, which received the first full Part 135 standard certification last October. In addition, Wing Aviation, the air delivery subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet, has a Part 135 single-pilot air carrier certificate.

In October 2019, Wing announced a partnership with FedEx, Walgreens and a local retailer to make deliveries to customers in Christiansburg, Va. In the same month, UPS announced a partnership with CVS Pharmacy; in November, it completed two prescription deliveries in Cary, N.C.

Amazon noted that Part 135 certification does not mean regular drone deliveries will begin in the immediate future, but rather that the company is flying and testing its drones with the goal of eventually scaling operations.

The project has been slow going to date. The news comes more than a year after soon-to-retire Amazon executive Jeff Wilke said he expected drone deliveries in the U.S. “within months.”

It was way back in 2016 when 7-Eleven completed the first autonomous drone delivery of a chicken sandwich, doughnuts, coffee, candy and Slurpees to a home in Reno, Nev. A few months later, Amazon’s Prime Air completed its first drone delivery of a Fire TV Stick and popcorn in Cambridge, England. (Time from order to delivery: 13 minutes.)

Chinese ecommerce platform arguably has the most advanced drone delivery network in the world, with seven types of drones and over 100 routes in rural parts of China. We’ve also seen drone delivery in Australia, Finland and Rwanda, but the service remains relatively nascent in the U.S.

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@lisalacy Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.