Amazon to trial drones for delivery with support from Government and CAA
Written by: Laurence Doe | Published:

Amazon has today announced a partnership with the UK Government to explore the steps needed to make the delivery of parcels by small drones a reality, allowing Amazon to trial new methods of testing its delivery systems.

A cross-Government team supported by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has provided Amazon with permissions to explore three key innovations. These include beyond line of sight operations in rural and suburban areas, testing sensor performance to make sure the drones can identify and avoid obstacles, and flights where one person operates multiple highly-automated drones.

Amazon and the Government will also aim to understand what operating rules and safety regulations will be needed to help move the drone industry forward as there are currently no regulations to cover deliveries by UAVs.

As the UK’s aviation safety regulator, the CAA will be fully involved in the work to explore the potential for safe use of drones beyond line of sight. The outcomes of these tests will help inform the development of future policy and regulation in this area.

“This is an exemption from those regulations for Amazon to do the testing in a very specific, very controlled, overseen way,” said a CAA spokesperson. “Drones have an amazing future and could well become a major sector in terms of the world aviation industry.

“We would like to see them safely integrated into the airspace system as another airspace user, the same as an aircraft, balloon or a glider. The way forward is to bring them into the overall airspace structure as an airspace user and that’s what these trials and other bits of work will potentially help to achieve, but industry needs to develop the technology to enable that to happen and these tests will help with that.”

Unlike small drones, unmanned aircraft with an operating mass of more than 20 kg are subject to the whole of the UK Aviation regulations (as listed within the UK Air Navigation Order – ANO), although they may be exempted from certain requirements by the CAA.

Large drones are not currently permitted to fly in any non-segregated airspace in the UK without specific permission from the CAA. Large devices are being tested at a number of locations but the airspace around these locations has been segregated to exclude other airspace users.

The CAA has currently set out the following steps for those flying a UAV:

  • Make sure you can see your drone at all times and don't fly higher than 400 feet
  • Always keep your drone away from aircraft, helicopters, airports and airfields

Drones fitted with cameras must not be flown:

  • Within 50 metres of people, vehicles, buildings or structures
  • Over congested areas or large gatherings such as concerts and sports events

“The UK is a leader in enabling drone innovation – we’ve been investing in Prime Air research and development here for quite some time,” said Paul Misener, Amazon’s VP of Global Innovation Policy and Communications. “This announcement strengthens our partnership with the UK and brings Amazon closer to our goal of using drones to safely deliver parcels in 30 minutes to customers in the UK and elsewhere around the world.”

“Using small drones for the delivery of parcels will improve customer experience, create new jobs in a rapidly growing industry, and pioneer new sustainable delivery methods to meet future demand,” said Misener. “The UK is charting a path forward for drone technology that will benefit consumers, industry and society.”

“We want to enable the innovation that arises from the development of drone technology by safely integrating drones into the overall aviation system,” said Tim Johnson, CAA policy director. “These tests by Amazon will help inform our policy and future approach.”

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