Amazon has announced a partnership with the UK Government which will allow the company to test its Prime Air drone delivery service in British skies.

The UK Government has been keen to attract large technology firms who want to test the latest and greatest advancements in technology over the past few years. While this has mainly meant being at the forefront of autonomous car development, it seems that the skies are now open to technology firms as well.

A cross-Government team has been put together, supported by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which has provided Amazon with permissions to explore three key innovations: beyond line of sight operations in rural and suburban areas, testing sensor performance to make sure the drones can identify and avoid obstacles, and flights where one person operates multiple highly-automated drones.

Permission from the UK Government follows on from permission from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which stipulated that Amazon can test its prototype drones in the US. Unlike the UK Government, which is being quite open with its testing agreement, the FAA stipulated many different rules – including the fact that the drones must be within the pilot’s line of sight, fly no higher than 400ft and no faster than 100mph.

“The UK is a leader in enabling drone innovation – we’ve been investing in Prime Air research and development here for quite some time,” says Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global innovation policy and communications.

“This announcement strengthens our partnership with the UK and brings Amazon closer to our goal of using drones to safely deliver parcels in 30 minutes to customers in the UK and elsewhere around the world.”

Amazon had initially begun testing its Prime Air drones at a secret Canadian site, but now the company can fully identify how they will work in the real world. It will also help the UK Government fully grasp how drones can be used safely and reliably in the logistics industry. The Government also hopes to be able to identify what operating rules and safety regulation will be needed to be put into place to enable the drone industry to develop further.

“Using small drones for the delivery of parcels will improve customer experience, create new jobs in a rapidly growing industry, and pioneer new sustainable delivery methods to meet future demand,” says Paul. “The UK is charting a path forward for drone technology that will benefit consumers, industry and society.”

As the UK’s aviation safety regulator, the CAA will be fully involved in this work to explore the potential for safe use of drones beyond line of sight. The outcomes of these tests will help inform the development of future policy and regulation in this area.

“We want to enable the innovation that arises from the development of drone technology by safely integrating drones into the overall aviation system,” notes Tim Johnson, CAA policy director. “These tests by Amazon will help inform our policy and future approach.”

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