Amazon secures BVLOS approval from the FAA

Every time we see a press release pop up with a hopeful update about Amazon’s Prime Air drone project, it is really difficult to report objectively without your mind jumping to all the other times you have written about the retail behemoth’s attempt – and failure – at launching an in-house delivery drone operation.

Writing a hopeful story about Amazon’s delivery drone projects feels like a stubborn drive down an aisle littered with literal red flags and flashing red lights.

We mean; it is what now; eleven years since the company foretold that the future of its delivery operations would be dominated by drone technology?  And since then, a number of successful drone logistics ventures have made strides and millions of successful commercial flights.

Zipline. Wing. Wingcopter. Swoop Aero. Matternet. Manna. You can name them all.

In that time, Amazon has crashed from one misfortune to another.

They have made over 20 delivery drone prototypes, many which have never left the ground; or crashed and burned; or suffered a sudden discontinuation of a seemingly promising pilot.

But you still have to give them points for not giving up. They could have given up a long time ago and outsourced drone logistics services like other retailers are doing; but they have kept at it.

Granted, the company does have a lot of money to burn, but props to them for trying.

So it is that we are here again, Amazon are today celebrating the Federal Aviation Administration granting the company approval to fly their drones beyond the pilot’s visual line of sight.

The approval will allow Prime Air to further expand drone deliveries and lays the foundation to safely scale operations to more locations in the United States, the company says.

“We’re excited to share that the FAA has given Prime Air additional permissions that allow us to operate our drones beyond visual line of sight, enabling us to now serve more customers via drone and effectively expand and scale our drone delivery operations,” Amazon announced.

“To obtain this permission, we developed a BVLOS strategy, including an onboard detect-and-avoid technology. We’ve spent years developing, testing, and refining our onboard detect-and-avoid system to ensure our drones can detect and avoid obstacles in the air.”

Detailing the journey it took to obtain the approval, Amazon said it submitted crucial engineering information to the FAA, including our onboard detect-and-avoid capabilities.

“This included how our system was designed, how it is operated, how it is maintained, and ultimately how we validated that the system performs to specified requirements, the company added.

“We then conducted flight demonstrations in the presence of FAA inspectors to show our system works in real-world scenarios—we flew in the presence of real planes, helicopters, and a hot air balloon to demonstrate how the drone safely navigated away from each of them.

“We also provided extensive analysis and test data for our technology that further validated the safety of our system. After reviewing this information and observing the technology in action at our test site, the FAA provided Amazon Prime Air with BVLOS approval.”

We suppose the reason why it took Amazon all these years to get a drone up in the air was because they were aiming for perfection. The new superpowers have given the company leave to expand its delivery area in College Station, Texas, where it has a pilot project going.

“It means more Amazon customers than ever before will be eligible to choose from thousands of items for drone delivery, including household essentials and beauty and drugstore products.

“Later this year, drone deliveries will begin integrating into Amazon’s delivery network, meaning drones will deploy from facilities next to our Same-Day Delivery sites, which will provide Amazon customers with faster delivery of an even greater selection of items.”

Amazon already had an Air Carrier Certificate from the FAA, which was granted at the height of the corona virus pandemic in 2020. The certification allowed the retailer to operate as an airline and deliver small packages via drone.

With that certification and the newly granted permission to fly beyond the line of sight, the retailer reckons it now has solid ground from which to laying the foundation to scale drone delivery for customers.

“Now that we’ve been granted these permissions by the FAA, we’ll immediately scale our operations in College Station with our current MK-27 drone to reach customers in more densely populated areas. Our vision has remained unchanged since we started working on Prime Air: to create a safe and scalable way to deliver packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using highly autonomous drones.

“To achieve our goal of delivering 500 million packages, per year, by drone, by the end of this decade, we knew we had to design a system capable of serving highly populated areas and that was safer than driving to the store.

“It’s taken years of inventing, testing, and improving to develop these breakthrough technologies, and now, on the heels of regulatory approval and cutting-edge technology, we’re excited to launch this next chapter for Prime Air.”

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