UK Approves Amazon Plan to Run Delivery Drone Tests Banned in U.S.

NEWS ANALYSIS: The UK Civil Aviation Authority gave its OK for flight tests of Amazon delivery drones, including autonomous operations banned in the United States.

Amazon Drone Tests 2

Amazon and British aviation authorities have reached agreement on a series of tests of drones designed to deliver packages to customers.

The new drone tests will include operations beyond the line-of-sight of the operator, which currently is prohibited in the United States. Other tests will include sensor performance to test whether the drones can see and avoid obstacles, and tests on how well one operator can control multiple drones.

Amazon plans to try out a number of different drone designs and delivery mechanisms, said Kristen Kish, an Amazon spokesperson. However, she wasn't willing to go into too many details about the company's research. "What I can say is that it brings us one step closer to realizing this amazing innovation for our customers," she added in an email to eWEEK.

"Some of the testing will start right away," Kish said. "We've been investing in Prime Air research and development in the U.K. for quite a while now and these tests are just a natural progression of our activities."

So far such testing has not been possible in the United States. The FAA released its latest commercial drone rules last month and, while the rules do allow drone freight delivery, they don't currently allow operations beyond the line of sight. Reached for details about Amazon's drone delivery research, FAA spokesperson Alison Duquette told eWEEK that the agency also is working on ways to further the commercial use of unmanned aircraft.

"We are now working with industry on a rule that would allow flights over people," Duquette said. "And we're continuing to work with our industry partners on the research and testing needed to safely move beyond line-of-sight operations."

The new rules for commercial drone use in the United States that allow operations beyond the previous limits go into effect Aug. 29. However, the FAA hasn't established a time frame for when it might establish rules that allow operations beyond the line of sight.

However, the U.K.'s CAA is moving quickly. According to a statement by Amazon announcing the agreement, the CAA and Amazon are approaching this as a research partnership.

"This groundbreaking work will help Amazon and the government understand how drones can be used safely and reliably in the logistics industry," the announcement said. "It will also help identify what operating rules and safety regulations will be needed to help move the drone industry forward."

Statements by the CAA indicate the Amazon tests will be used to help set policy for the use of drones beyond line of sight and for purposes including delivery. Ultimately, the research findings will be used to develop regulations for future drone use.

"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, in a prepared statement provided by Amazon to eWEEK. "These tests by Amazon will help inform our policy and future approach."

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...