Amazon’s Prime Air Drone Delivery Program Receives FAA Approval for Beyond Visual Line of Sight

July 8, 2024 Industry News

Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery program will soon be soaring to new heights. The company has announced that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had given it “the green light” to conduct flights “beyond visual line of sight” (BVLOS) giving drone pilots the ability to control the drone using instruments and technology. This regulatory approval allows Amazon to not only safely expand and scale its drone delivery operations to more locations in the US, but also help pave the way to reach customers in more populated areas. Amazon is developing breakthrough drone technology that is changing the skyscape of package delivery—making it faster, quieter and easier.

What’s more is that drones are continuing to play such a large role in our lives as technology advances. But who are the people that are designing, testing, building and flying these amazing, multi-functional devices in the sky? Drone engineers plan, design and test uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) while drone pilots fly them – each of these jobs requires a very specific skillset which only certain colleges and institutions provide training for. Vaughn College in Queens, NY offers specialized training in areas such as aeronautical engineering and UAS design, application and operation which is exactly what companies like Amazon are looking for.

Drone technology that’s been years in the making

For the past several years, Amazon has been developing its onboard “detect-and-avoid” technology system to gain BVLOS approval from the FAA. With safety ranking as the company’s top priority, this cutting-edge system underwent years of testing to ensure its drones could effectively and accurately detect and avoid obstacles in the air, such as airplanes, helicopters and hot air balloons.

Here is a snapshot of the engineering that was used to gain FAA approval:

  • Critical information was submitted to the FAA on how the system was designed, operated and maintained and how the company validated the performance to meet specified FAA requirements.
  • Flight demonstrations were conducted—under FAA supervision—in the presence of real aircraft and a hot air balloon to show FAA inspectors how the system operates and safely navigates away from any objects or obstacles.
  • Extensive analysis and test data were provided to validate the safety of the onboard “detect-and-avoid” technology system.

When and where can we expect the first drone deliveries?

Later this year, Amazon plans to ramp up its drone deliveries currently taking place in College Station, Texas. This is the location where the company first began testing drone deliveries in 2022. Amazon will also expand its drone delivery service to those who live in Lockeford, California later this year, as well as cities in the UK and Italy by the end of 2024.

In 2020, the FAA granted Amazon an Air Carrier Certificate which allowed the company to operate as an airline to deliver thousands of small packages under five pounds via drones—many within 60 minutes or less. Now, with BVLOS approval, Amazon will use its MK27 drones to deliver packages to more customers who live in densely populated areas than was previously possible. Amazon is also building a next-generation MK-30 drone which will replace current drones being used by the end of 2024. This new drone design is faster, quieter, lighter, can fly twice as far and can withstand more diverse weather conditions (rain, hotter and colder temperatures).

Customers in the Prime Air Delivery locations will have thousands of items to choose from for drone delivery, ranging from household to beauty and drugstore products. Even more exciting is Amazon’s ambitious goal of delivering 500 million packages per year via drone by the end of the decade. Oh, and did we mention part of this goal is to deliver these packages within 30 minutes or less?

What’s behind a drone delivery

If you’ve ever ordered a product from Amazon, you may have wondered how the company can deliver a plethora of products in record time. Now imagine taking it to a new level through drone delivery.

Here are some interesting facts about how a package is delivered by drone:

  • Boxes used for drone delivery have customized cushioning technology called a “trampoline,” which is placed at the bottom of the box to protect items during delivery.
  • A fresh battery is placed inside the drone for each delivery.
  • Each drone undergoes a detailed inspection to ensure that it is safe to fly. This includes a top-to-bottom inspection from the propellers down to the frame. If the drone does not pass inspection, it will be replaced.
  • Once the drone is cleared to fly, an employee will first load the battery followed by the package inside the drone, which will then be launched 400 feet into the air.
  • When the delivery is completed, the drone flies back to the facility—under employee monitoring—to find its allocated landing pad and land safely.

Are you interested in designing, testing or inspecting drones using the latest technologies or becoming a drone operator yourself? Many companies, like Amazon, are utilizing drone technology to streamline processes, become more efficient and improve outputs for customers. In fact, the demand for drone pilots in a variety of industries is soaring, with some careers paying over $100K a year! Vaughn’s Uncrewed Aerial System (UAS) Design, Application and Operation Certificate can give you the tools and knowledge you need to land the career of your dreams. Apply today and unlock your future in autonomous aerial vehicles.