Why Amazon is testing drone delivery in the U.K. — and not the U.S.


Amazon previously expressed frustration with the slow pace of the FAA’s drone policy-making process.

Amazon lifted the lid on its drone delivery progress this morning when CEO Jeff Bezos tweeted a video of a successful package delivery in Cambridgeshire, a rural British town about 60 miles north of London.

Bezos shared the video the same day he is attending a summit of technology executives hosted by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump at his New York City skyscraper.

Today CEOs Elon Musk and Travis Kalanick announced they are joining Trump’s policy strategy team, where they’ll be able to advise the incoming administration on key issues that will impact their industry, like self-driving car regulations.

Bezos will likely be looking after his own interests, too, which includes the future of drone policy. U.S. drone rules will be crafted during Trump’s presidency.

When Bezos first announced Amazon’s drone delivery plans on CBS’s “60 Minutes” in 2013, he was confident small unmanned aircraft would one day fill the skies. But how soon depended on the Federal Aviation Administration.

Initially, the online retailer hoped its drone testing would start in the U.S. But when Amazon applied for a permit to fly in 2014, the FAA didn’t grant permission until almost a year later. So Amazon took its testing operations to the U.K., where the company said it received permission from regulators to start testing faster and with more leniency than in the U.S.

Amazon’s U.K. demonstration shows off autonomous piloting technology where the drone flies for about two miles without an operator — not in the camera frame, at least — following it, a move which isn’t broadly legal in either country yet.

Amazon received permission to fly drones in some rural and suburban areas in the U.K., allowing the company to test more freely. Amazon is also working with U.K. regulators to test how an operator can safely operate multiple drones at once, and a detection system to avoid other aircraft, obstacles and people on the ground, the New York Times reported.

Even though the FAA was slow to start, U.S. regulators have been granting permits for companies to test drone delivery, too. Since U.S. commercial drone rules were finalized at the end of August, the FAA’s website shows more than 200 commercial drone flight waivers have been issued.

For example, UPS tested a medical supply drop to an island off the coast of Massachusetts in September; the same month, Alphabet’s drone delivery initiative, Project Wing, sent burritos to students at Virginia Tech.

The FAA said it expected to start crafting rules about how drones will be allowed to fly over more populated areas this month, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Amazon isn’t alone testing in the U.K. DHL, a major European delivery service, completed a round of drone testing over the summer. And even the Royal Mail, the U.K. national postal service, expressed interest in drones amid warnings that rural mail delivery in the country may be under threat due to high delivery costs.

The U.S. Postal Service is also looking into drone delivery. USPS released a survey in October to gauge how Americans feel about the prospect of drones delivering to American doorsteps. More Americans like the idea of drone delivery than dislike it, according to the survey.

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