July 26, 2016      

Just days after Flirtey completed the first FAA-approved home drone delivery in the United States, Amazon announced it has partnered with the UK government to test its Prime Air drone delivery service.

In a statement, Amazon said the partnership with the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will allow it to “explore” three key aspects of drone delivery:

  1. Flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) in rural and suburban areas
  2. Testing obstacle avoidance technology
  3. Flights where one person operates multiple autonomous drones

This doesn’t mean drone delivery will soon be up and running in the UK, but it’s a good sign the government is willing to work with Amazon. Based on the CAA’s drone regulations, any Amazon Prime Air test flights will be conducted below 400 feet.

“The UK is a leader in enabling drone innovation – we’ve been investing in Prime Air research and development here for quite some time,” said Paul Misener, Amazon’s Vice President of Global Innovation Policy and Communications, in today’s announcement. “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.”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which recently announced its regulations for small commercial drones in the United States, does not allow BVLOS flights. So this could potentially be a leg up for Amazon against drone delivery rivals Flirtey and Google. The CAA, which is the UK’s aviation safety regulator, will be fully involved in the exploration of BVLOS flights.

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

Amazon Prime Air drones weigh less than 55 pounds (25 kg), are battery-powered, can operate beyond line of sight of 10 miles, fly under 400 feet and travel over 50 MPH. The service claims to be able to deliver packages up to 5 pounds to customers in 30 minutes or less using these drones.

The biggest rival for Amazon Prime Air in the US seems to be Flirtey, the Reno, Nevada-based startup that partnered with 7-Eleven for the first FAA-approved home drone delivery in the US. A Flirtey drone, over two flights, autonomously delivered Slurpees, a chicken sandwich, donuts, hot coffee and candy to a family about a mile away from a 7-Eleven. Watch the historic home drone delivery below.

Flirtey has been at the forefront of the drone delivery industry. The company already has a commercial drone delivery business in New Zealand, where the drone regulatory picture is much clearer. In July 2015, Flirtey made the first drone parcel delivery in New Zealand by transporting auto parts 2 kilometers.