When Amazon chief Jeff Bezos announced in December 2013 that he wanted to deliver customer packages using small, autonomous flying machines, some people thought he might be in need of a lie down.
But Bezos was serious, and ever since then Amazon has been investing time and money in the development of a drone platform that could one day help the company to improve its last-mile delivery performance.
Regulation has always been the biggest hurdle for such a delivery system, but it’s now been revealed that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the body that deals with such matters in the U.S., has just issued a “Part 135 air carrier certificate using unmanned aircraft systems” to Amazon, paving the way for more ambitious testing of its flying machine for deliveries.
With the FAA tasked with ensuring safety in the skies, and autonomous drone technology still in its relative infancy, the agency has so far only handed out the certificate to a few carefully selected companies.
Wing, for example, received permission to take its drone delivery testing to the next level in 2019 and has been conducting trials in partnership with Walgreens and FedEx in Virginia. Another recipient, UPS, has been trying out drone delivery for medical supplies within the grounds of a medical facility in Raleigh, Virginia.
Amazon: “Important step forward”
While full-fledged drone delivery services may still be a ways off, Amazon is clearly delighted with the FAA’s decision as it helps propel it toward its goal of using airspace to perform last-mile deliveries.
David Carbon, vice president of Prime Air, told Digital Trends in a statement: “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,” adding that it will “continue to develop and refine our technology to fully integrate delivery drones into the airspace.”
The FAA is under pressure to loosen restrictions for commercial drone operations, with those wanting to launch drone delivery services pointing to other countries where regulators appear to have been quicker to embrace the technology. But the FAA insists it’s doing what it can to to support the development of new drone systems while at the same time ensuring safety in the skies.
Digital Trends has reached out to Amazon for more details on what the FAA’s decision means in practical terms for the company’s drone ambitions, and we will update this article when we hear back.