Amazon may trial drones for parcel delivery

"We want to ensure that if you want to innovate, come to the UK"

Paul Gallagher
Thursday 26 March 2015 19:47
Amazon's drones were unveiled in 2012
Amazon's drones were unveiled in 2012

Amazon has been in discussions with the Government to begin trials of its Prime Air delivery service using drones in the UK.

Transport Minister Robert Goodwill revealed he had been approached by executives from the online retail giant because of the firm’s frustrations with regulations in the United States.

“I had some people from Amazon coming to see me the other day; they want to replace van deliveries with drone deliveries and they can’t do any trials in the US because they’re over-regulated,” he said at a press conference for driverless cars when asked about the Government’s role in embracing wider technology.

“So my favourite word is deregulation, and we need to make sure that wherever you are in the world, and if you want to innovate and you want to invest in this sort of technology, come to the UK because we’re here to help you.”

Speaking afterwards he said the Government is “working with Amazon and working on the whole issue of drones… We’re meeting with the British Airline Pilots Association and we’re both keen to innovate.”

Amazon's PrimeAir drone

Amazon already has a drone R&D lab in Cambridge where it began tests last November. The company is likely to continue investing in research outside its home country despite the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the US last week finally approving Amazon’s plan to begin testing drones for online deliveries – eight months after the firm made the request.

Paul Misener, Amazon’s VP of Public Policy, warned at the Senate subcommittee on Unmanned Aircraft Systems last week that the US that it faced being left behind in developing state of the art technology.

He said the company had waited to long for the FAA to act and that other countries had taken much more “reasonable” approaches, recognising the potential economic benefits of commercial drone operations

Prime Air aims to deliver packages within 30 minutes by flying drones below 500ft. Mr Misner said the use of drones would increase overall safety as it would mean fewer consumers driving to the shops and a reduction in delivery trucks on the road.

Operating drones for commercial purposes is illegal under US law. However it is allowed in the UK if permission is granted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). It has laid out guidelines for drone users that specify that unmanned aircraft must always be flown within the “line of sight” of the pilot, which it generally measures at 1,600ft horizontally and 400ft vertically.

This remains a stumbling block for Amazon and other companies as it means they would only be able to deliver items within 1,600ft of their warehouses. Chinese internet giant Alibaba is also currently carrying out its own private trials of drone technology for deliveries.

A spokesman for Amazon said: “We are working with regulators and policymakers in many countries in order to make Prime Air a reality for our customers as soon as possible. Putting Prime Air into service will take some time, but we will deploy when we have the regulatory support needed to realize our vision.”

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