Amazon’s drone delivery program doesn’t seem to be off to a great start. The Prime Air division was said to be hit hard by recent, widespread layoffs. Now, a new report indicates that Amazon’s drones have made just a handful of deliveries in their first few weeks of operation.
After nearly a decade of working on the program, Amazon said in December that it would start making deliveries by drone in Lockeford, California, and College Station, Texas. However, by the middle of January, as few as seven houses had received Amazon packages by drone, according to The Information: two in California and five in Texas.
The report suggests that Amazon has been hamstrung by the Federal Aviation Administration, which is said to be blocking drones from flying over roads or people unless the company gets permission on a case-by-case basis. Although Amazon had touted its FAA certification, the agency imposed a string of restrictions, which hadn’t been revealed until now. It has largely rejected Amazon’s requests to loosen the limitations.
One of the plans the FAA agreed to, according to the report, was for Amazon employees to check no cars were passing on surrounding roads before drones left its Lockeford delivery facility. That depot is on an industrial block, and the drones need to fly over at least one road before getting to any homes.
Amazon’s drones are far heavier than ones operated by Wing, as well as Walmart’s partners Flytrex and Zipline. Those weigh between 10 and 40 pounds. Amazon’s drone, on the other hand, weighs around 80 pounds and can only carry a five-pound payload. The report suggests the drone’s mass could be causing concern among FAA officials. The agency has given Wing, Flytrex and Zipline permission to fly over roadways — to date, Wing has carried out more than 300,000 deliveries.
One other aspect that doesn’t help Amazon’s prospects is that folks who want to receive deliveries by drone need a backyard where packages can be dropped off — so apartment dwellers need not apply. The drone can only carry a certain size of box and it dumps packages from 12 feet in the air, further limiting the types of products it can transport.
“We meet or exceed all safety standards and have obtained regulatory authorization to conduct commercial drone delivery operations,” Amazon spokesperson Maria Boschetti told The Information. “We welcome the FAA’s rigorous evaluations of our operation, and we’ll continue to champion the significant role that regulators play to ensure all drone companies are achieving the right design, build and operating standards.” Boschetti added that the Prime Air layoffs, which have reportedly slashed the size of the delivery teams at both locations by more than half, have not affected Amazon’s plans for the test sites.