Amazon Prime Air drones are cleared for testing, but expect delays before service launch

It took eight months after first asking, but Amazon finally got the go-ahead from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to run drone test flights. It's the first step in what is likely to be a long road toward Amazon's goal of using the friendly skies to deliver USB sticks, smartphones, and Pop-Tarts.

On Thursday, the FAA issued an "experimental airworthiness certificate" to Amazon's logistics arm. The certificate comes with a number of restrictions that are not even close to what Amazon would need to run delivery flights through a typical American neighborhood. That's to be expected, however, as it's still early days for Amazon's dream of using drones as delivery vehicles.

For the test period, Amazon has to keep its drones at 400 feet or below. All flights must occur during the day, and only when there are clear skies. The drone operator needs to have a pilot's license, plus the operator and an observer must be able to see the drone at all times. Amazon also has to file monthly reports to the FAA about its tests flights.

Ultimately, Amazon hopes to have a fleet of drones capable of delivering packages of up to 5 pounds within 30 minutes or less.

The impact on you at home: When we first heard of Amazon's drone service in late 2013, dubbed Amazon Prime Air, the company was shooting to launch its program by 2015. That was dependent, however, upon the FAA's figuring out how to integrate commercial drones into U.S. skies--a process that only started in February. Congress requires the FAA to have a "safe integration" plan for unmanned drones ready by the end of September. So who knows By that time Amazon might be ready for drone-to-door deliveries, at least in select areas.

Prime delivery

If it does get off the ground, Amazon's drone delivery service will probably be yet another perk for Prime members, as its name suggests. Recently, Amazon has been focused on bumping up delivery speeds for Amazon's Prime program. In December, Amazon launched a one-hour delivery service called Prime Now that is currently available in Baltimore, Manhattan, and Miami.


Ian Paul

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