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Amazon delivery drones will be tested in the UK

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Amazon has won Government approval to trial drone delivery in the UK, it announced today.

The online retail giant is to work with the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to trial use of drones for delivering small parcels as it looks to shorten the time from order to delivery to as little as 30 minutes. Permission granted by the CAA seems to go beyond that granted in the US, where the Federal Air Authority insists that all testing must be within the line of sight. Amazon has also previously tested drones at a secret site in Canada, according to Canada’s CBC.

In the UK, Amazon will be able to go further, testing drone operations beyond the line of sight in suburban and rural areas. One operator will be able to control more than one drone at once. Amazon will also test sensors that ensure drones can avoid obstacles on their own. Amazon eventually aims to use drones to carry parcels weighing up to five pounds – or 2.3kg.

Amazon, an Elite retailer in IRUK Top500 research, has welcomed the development warmly. “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 vice president 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.”

This comes just days after news of Amazon Flex, which enables car drivers who pass its checks to deliver Amazon parcels in their spare time, and again aims at 30 minute deliveries. This latest development, says the retailer, will foster an emerging industry.

“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.”

The CAA has previously warned on the use of drones by private and hobby users. “Drone users have to understand that when taking to the skies they are flying around one of the busiest areas of airspace in the world – a complex system that brings together all manner of aircraft including passenger aeroplanes, military jets, helicopters, gliders and light aircraft,” wrote its assistant communications director Jonathan Nicholson in a news piece posted on the site earlier this month that urged users to take care with drones.

Today, the CAA said it wanted to find out how drones could be used safely. “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.”

Our view: Until today received wisdom said it was all over for the drone, with the US aviation regulator insisting on line-of-sight tests, and aviation regulators around the world taking a cautious approach to commercial drone regulation. This is a bold step from the CAA that could yet make drone delivery, long relegated by industry observers to the status of myth and legend, a reality in the UK and beyond. We will watch with interest.

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