Amazon Prime Air delivery drones allowed off line-of-sight leash

Sky shipping can now go beyond visual range of operators – starting in Texas and then maybe airspace near you

Amazon Prime Air has received approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration to fly its package-delivery drones beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) of remote operators.

"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," the internet titan said Thursday.

Amazon said it worked extensively with the FAA to demonstrate how its drones can navigate safely in proximity to other aircraft.

"We currently deliver to hundreds of customers and have made thousands of deliveries via drone delivery," an Amazon spokesperson told The Register. That's up from "hundreds of deliveries" in October 2023, but shy of Prime Air's reported target of 10,000 in 2023.

Amazon received its initial part 135 certification in August 2020, which has been used for limited line-of-sight deliveries in California and Texas.

With the FAA's blessing in hand, Amazon plans to expand its delivery area in College Station, Texas. And later this year, the mega-corp said it intends to integrate drone deliveries with its delivery network, which will mean some Same-Day Delivery orders may travel by drone where available.

In April, Amazon announced it would stop drone delivery in Lockeford, California, while adding the service in the West Valley of the Phoenix Metro Area in Arizona. Further expansion was also teased, without specific details.

The regulatory approval will help Amazon Prime Air compete with rivals that have already obtained BVLOS permission from the FAA and have a longer track record of success. In April, Zipline said it had completed a million commercial drone deliveries.

Aviation firms require a part 135 air carrier certification to deliver packages by drone and further approval under the BEYOND program to fly without direct visual oversight.

In June 2022, Zipline received the first part 135 certification to authorize BVLOS operation in the US. And in December 2023, Wing received BVLOS approval from the FAA. Both carriers are currently service providers for Walmart.

In January 2023, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said the e-commerce giant would lay off 18,000 people, and some of those affected were reportedly part of the Prime Air team.

According to a January 2023 US Government Accountability Office report, industry stakeholders have complained that the FAA has not clearly communicated its requirements, making the process of regulatory approval difficult to navigate. The report cites FAA predictions that the commercial drone fleet will grow from 622,000 in 2021 to 858,000 in 2026. ®

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