Amazon gets FAA approval to deliver packages by flying drones

The Federal Aviation Administration officially designated the Amazon an “air carrier” on Monday, paving the way for Amazon to start testing its plans to drop off packages within 30 minutes.

The FAA’s approval marks a huge milestone for Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos grand plans to dominate online shopping by dramatically reducing delivery times. Last year, the eCommerce behemoth announced that it would start testing a shift from two-day shipping to one-day shipping for Prime customers. The drones, Amazon says, could allow it to reduce shipping times to mere minutes once a customer hits the “buy” button.

“This certification is an important step forward for Prime Air and indicates the FAA’s confidence in Amazon’s operating and safety procedures for an autonomous drone delivery service that will one day deliver packages to our customers around the world,” Prime Air vice president David Carbon said in a statement.

The company will “work closely with the FAA and other regulators around the world to realize our vision of 30-minute delivery,” he added.

Amazon said it plans to use its newly acquired “air carrier certificate” to start testing customer deliveries with drones. The company’s drone deliveries, which are still in the development stage, are expected to be limited to packages under 5 pounds.

The Seattle-based company made its first successful drone delivery on December 7, 2016 when it dropped off a Fire TV stick and a bag of popcorn to a home in Cambridge, England. The trip took 13 minutes, according to Amazon’s Prime Air website.

But regular commercial service has failed to take off due to the enormous regulatory hurdles Amazon faces — many of which have yet to be cleared, according to Bloomberg.

For Amazon to effectively rely on drones for regular deliveries, it must be able to pre-program the drone’s routes and let them fly without human pilots watching their every move, but US regulations don’t currently allow for completely autonomous flights, Bloomberg reported.

The FAA would also have to develop a new air-traffic system to track low-altitude drone flights, as well as come up with rules to minimize the risk of drones striking other aircraft and disturbing human activity below.

None of that has stopped Silicon Valley from betting on drones as a way to speed up commerce. Indeed, Amazon is the third company to win FAA approval to carry packages on drones that fly beyond the operator’s line of sight. The agency has also awarded certificates to UPS’s “Flight Forward” service and Wing, a subsidiary of Google-parent Alphabet that’s started testing drone deliveries in Virginia.

The FAA’s approval comes as Amazon sees its business surge due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced more people to shop from the safety of their own homes — sending the stock and Bezos’ fortune soaring.

Amazon shares closed up 1.45 percent at $3,450.96 — a rise of 86 percent this year. Last week, Bezos became the world’s first $200 billionaire on the skyrocketing stock price.