Watch this Airspace
On August 4th, Amazon filed part 135 waiver for approval by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to begin Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) testing for drone deliveries. Amazon would like to use its MK27 drone for delivery trials. The drone is still undergoing FCC review for airworthiness. Amazon Prime Air is confident that it meets the FAA requirements. Amazon believes the MK27 trial will prove: 1) the drone’s airworthiness; 2) is weather condition safe; 3) identifies and handles all airspace constraints; 4) that a 30 minute or less delivery commitment is achievable.
To accomplish this goal, Amazon has equipped the MK27 with “see and avoid” technology. The drone can steer clear of other flying objects such as other aircraft, animals, etc. The device can also detect and avoid power lines, trees and can identify obstacles. And the drone sees humans and/or pets on the ground. Also, other situational objects that might emerge unexpectedly.
The MK27 will communicate with Amazon’s proprietary Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) system which will update any local Air Traffic Control (ATC). This will allow for real-time tracking using global identifiers.
Amazon says that 80 to 85 percent of its current inventory would be deliverable through Prime Air. This is because most of Amazon’s Prime inventory weighs 5 pounds or less which is the capacity of the MK27.
Amazon says that it has conducted 10,000 real-world tests of the MK27 delivery drone. The deliveries must be within 8.5 miles making for a 15-mile round trip. They will begin in rural areas and creep toward more densely populated areas.
Amazon has committed the resources and R&D to make this happen. Yet it remains unclear how much or how fast the FAA will let them proceed. The UK and other countries with more favorable regulations to the FAA’s. Another country might allow Amazon to proceed at a quicker pace. The data from those trials could show the FAA the results to help speed their approval in the US. Google Wing recently received a Part 135 approval to do food delivery trials in and around Blacksburg, Virginia (home of Virginia Tech). Flytrex also has a food delivery trial in Reykjavik, Iceland and at a golf course in North Dakota. So there are other delivery trials that have been approved by the FAA for BVLOS. Although Amazon’s is the most ambitious.
There are several questions that ensue from Amazon’s filing. Their proprietary UTM may put Amazon in a position to charge other delivery companies a fee to use their system in place of a public system or developing their own. It is not likely that the FAA will want to monitor or encourage multiple UTMs in one area. It would make more sense to centralize into one. That might be the current ATC with feeds from UTMs. But again, it might be easier and make more sense to get that feed from one and several. In any case, there would need to be standards in place for data transmission. That’s a lot of background details and approvals by any and all relevant agencies. This will still be a slow and cautious process.
The bottom line concern has to be Return on Investment. The technology involved, the cost of the aircraft and the support systems to fly one order to one customer makes this a losing proposition. Even if the cost is being passed on the consumer, there’s a good chance the shipping will cost more than the actual item purchased.