By now, you’ve probably heard about Amazon’s theoretical drone delivery system – Prime Air. Amazon is projecting that the delivery system will be ready sometime in 2015 – and they seem to be placing the onus of that projection on the FAA. While it’s true that the FAA will need to lay out some rules before commercial drones become widespread, they are not the only ones who have a lot of planning to do. Amazon’s idea of a drone delivery system still has a lot of kinks to work out, and they might need to collaborate with more than the FAA.
We don’t often deal with airspace in our day-to-day logistics management, but considering the size of the drones and their limitations with fuel and cargo weight, it’s likely that Prime Air could only be available to select major cities. In a big dense city, Prime Air would be able to service a large amount of customers without expanding the range of the drones. Dense cities are also more likely to have readily available warehouse space, so a few fulfillment centers might be able to service the whole city via drone. Previously, Amazon rolled out an experimental grocery delivery service in Seattle and tested it there for five years before spreading into other cities. It’s likely that Prime Air would follow suit.
If cities are going to be a central part of Prime Air, then Amazon will have to work closely with city administrators to make sure everything runs smoothly. This could include developing delivery receptacles that meet building codes, inner-city air traffic routes (to avoid power lines and other potential hazards), and even netting under flight paths that go over areas packed with pedestrians (to keep malfunctioning drones or dropped packages from hitting the people below).
Of course, these are only some of the considerations that Amazon will have to iron out before launching Prime Air. FAA notwithstanding, it’s possible that a 2015 projection might be too optimistic…