Amazon Expanding Drone Deliveries After Earning FAA Approval

Testing included flying in the presence of real planes, helicopters, and a hot air balloon.

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that all commercial drone operators are able to maintain a line of sight to their drones until it approves a technology that can safely enable drones to fly beyond visual line of sight. Beyond Visual Line of Sight, known as BVLOS, is a term used in aviation to describe flying a drone where the remote pilot can't see it directly with their own eyes. Instead, a remote pilot would rely on instruments or technology to monitor and control the drone at all times.

Now, Amazon said the FAA has given Prime Air additional permissions that allow the company to operate its drones beyond visual line of sight, which will enable Amazon to now serve more customers via drone and effectively expand and scale its drone delivery operations. To obtain this permission, Amazon said it developed a BVLOS strategy, including an onboard detect-and-avoid technology.

The approval involved submitting engineering information to the FAA, including onboard detect-and-avoid capabilities. This included how Amazon's system was designed, how it is operated, how it is maintained, and ultimately how the company validated that the system performs to specified requirements. Amazon then conducted flight demonstrations in the presence of FAA inspectors to show its system works in real-world scenarios, like flying in the presence of real planes, helicopters, and a hot air balloon to demonstrate how the drone safely navigated away from each of them.

Amazon also provided extensive analysis and test data for its technology that further validated the safety of the system. After reviewing this information and observing the technology in action at Amazon's test site, the FAA provided Amazon Prime Air with BVLOS approval.

This new authorization and new permissions allow Amazon to expand delivery area in College Station, Texas. Later this year, drone deliveries will begin integrating into Amazon’s delivery network, meaning drones will deploy from facilities next to Amazon's Same-Day Delivery sites, which will provide Amazon customers with faster delivery of an even larger selection of items.

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