Amazon Prime Air Drone Delivery Fleet Wins FAA Approval

Amazon Prime Air has cleared a regulatory hurdle, moving the online retail giant one step closer to dropping packages off at your doorstep with drones.

The Federal Aviation Administration this weekend approved Amazon’s Prime Air arm as an official “air carrier,” marking a key milestone for Amazon’s drone delivery initiative, reads a new report from CNBC.

“Amazon Prime Air’s concept uses autonomous [unmanned aircraft systems] to safely and efficiently deliver packages to customers,” said a spokesperson for the FAA on Monday. “The FAA supports innovation that is beneficial to the public, especially during a health or weather-related crisis.”

Amazon has not revealed when or where it will begin its commercial delivery trials, but it does have test sites in the Northwest and in the nearby Vancouver area. Still, we’re probably a few years away from a commercial drone delivery service, in part because the FAA still needs to define regulations beyond the trial phase.

“This certification is an important step forward for Prime Air and indicates the FAA’s confidence in Amazon’s operating and safety procedures for an autonomous drone delivery service that will one day deliver packages to our customers around the world,” David Carbon, an Amazon vice president, said in a statement.

Last year, Amazon unveiled the latest version of its delivery drone, which is able to take off vertically like a helicopter and then fly forward like an airplane. Amazon said that its intention is to produce electric drones capable of flying as much as 15 miles, to deliver packages weighing under five pounds, and to do so in 30 minutes or less. At the time, Amazon said it was intending to start delivering packages “in a matter of months,” but the service has yet to materialize.

Amazon joins Alphabet subsidiary Wing and the UPS as companies that have gotten FAA approval to operate under the federal regulations governing charter operators and small airlines.

Wing has been conducting limited drone deliveries under a similar FAA approval in Virginia since last year, while UPS flies medical supplies within a hospital campus in Raleigh, North Carolina. Other smaller companies and startups are also seeking expanded FAA approvals.