Speaking at a press conference for driverless cars, transport minister Robert Goodwill confirmed Amazon’s wish to trial a delivery service using drones in the UK, which could potentially replace van deliveries. The project, called Amazon Prime Air, was first revealed in a YouTube video in late 2013.
The Under Secretary of State made the comments when discussing the Government’s role in embracing wider technology: “I had some people from Amazon coming to see me the other day; they want to replace van deliveries with drone deliveries, and they can’t do any trials in the US because they’re over-regulated.
So my favourite word is deregulation, and we need to make sure that wherever you are in the world, and if you want to innovate and you want to invest in this sort of technology, come to the UK because we’re here to help you.”
America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved Amazon’s plan to begin testing drones for online deliveries, though the retail giant first made the request in July last year.
US Law regarding drones
• Operating drones for commercial purposes is illegal,
• The flying of unmanned aircrafts, including recreational drones, is banned above 400ft.
• Air traffic control must also be notified before any flight takes place within five miles of an airport.
This remains a stumbling block for Amazon and other companies as it means they would only be able to deliver items within 1,600ft of their warehouses. The FAA is said to be currently reviewing its rules on drones, and new regulations are expected to be announced in the near future.
In a letter to the FFA, Amazon’s Paul Misener said: “Without approval of our testing in the United States, we will be forced to continue expanding our Prime Air R&D footprint abroad.”
UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)
However, the use of drones for commercial purposes is allowed in the UK if permission is granted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
The UK’s CAA has laid out guidelines for drone users that specify that unmanned aircraft must always be flown within the “line of sight” of the pilot, which it generally measures at 1,600 ft horizontally and 400 ft vertically.
Law enforcement as regards drone regulation breaches in the UK appears to have been relatively tolerant. Chief inspector of the Metropolitan Police, Nick Aldworth, told a House of Lords select committee on piloted aircraft systems that tourists had been caught flying drones in parts of central London, despite laws restricting their use so close to buildings and congested areas.
“We have decided not to enforce the legislation that exists, even though they were in contravention of it, because it did not seem proportionate,” he said.
Chinese internet giant Alibaba is also currently carrying out its own private trials of drone technology for deliveries.
Meanwhile, two British delivery firms, Warwickshire-based FPS Distribution Centre and Yorkshire firm Droneflight beat both Amazon and Alibaba to completing the UK’s first test delivery by drone.