An email chain shows that Amazon has been testing drones in the UK for longer than initially thought.
Correspondence between Amazon and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which regulates drone flying in the UK, shows that Amazon has been testing drones in UK airspace since summer 2015. It was previously believed that Amazon only began testing drones in UK airspace in the summer of 2016.
The 45-page email chain was uploaded onto the CAA’s website after a freedom of information (FOI) request was submitted.
“The CAA visited an Amazon UK test flying site in June 2015 in order to witness a test flight,” reads the FOI response.
Amazon has been in contact with the CAA since 2014, according to the email chain, which highlights how closely the UK’s aviation regulator has been working with Amazon employees in both the UK, Seattle, and California.
“We look forward to hopefully seeing all of you on Monday at our test facility,” wrote an unknown Amazon employee in one email to the CAA. “We’ve reviewed the most recent forecasts, and propose a start time of 11 a.m. Given we are still three days out, we will continue to monitor the forecast and I will update this thread if we need to shift the time.
“We will be outdoors during the testing (approximately 1-2 hours). Temperatures can vary widely with the sun and the wind, so it is recommended to bring a jacket, dress in layers, and wear trainers or wellies since we will be in a field.”
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos revealed plans for Amazon Prime Air, the company’s drone operation, in an interview on “60 Minutes” in December 2013. The conceptual drone-based delivery system is currently in development and a number of drone designs have been released.
Amazon wants to use the drones to deliver packages to people’s homes and offices in under 30 minutes. It claims the drones will be greener, cheaper, and safer than the vans that are currently used to deliver Amazon packages.
Amazon Prime Air cofounder Daniel Buchmueller said in July 2016 that the battery-powered vehicles can rise vertically like a helicopter up to 400 feet before flying up to 15 miles at speeds of 50mph. He said the company is creating 25kg drones that are highly automated and able to carry packages up to 2kg in weight, adding that there are more than a dozen prototypes already made.
Ahead of a visit to an Amazon drone test site in June, a CAA employee explained to an Amazon employee how they would be evaluating Amazon’s “systems” when Amazon’s drone engineers “come to starting the more advanced stuff.”
The email chain also shows that Amazon had to cancel a planned meeting with the CAA at a drone test site due to bad weather. The meeting took place at the CAA’s office at Gatwick instead.
Elsewhere in the email chain, an Amazon employee asked a CAA employee to share any FOI responses that they were about to publish regarding the company’s drone tests, which Amazon is desperate to keep under wraps. Photographers were recently turned away from an Amazon drone test site in Cambridge by “hostile” security guards.
The email chain also shows that Amazon has been getting advice on its drone delivery programme from law firm Clyde & Co.
UK government changes its tone on drones
CAA legislation currently dictates that drones cannot be operated within 50 metres of a building or a person, or within 150 metres of a built-up area. Drones also have to remain in line of sight and within 500 metres of the pilot, making them inconvenient for deliveries and surveillance operations.
But Amazon and the CAA announced a joint partnership in July this year that gave Amazon special permissions, critically flying drones beyond line of sight.
However, Britain’s new transport minister, Chris Grayling, appears to be a bit more sceptical about drones than his predecessors.
Speaking at an aviation conference this week, Grayling reportedly said: “I think perhaps I have got a little less enthusiasm for a completely liberal market on unmanned aircraft and drones around the country than one or two of my predecessors.
“They have an important role to play in our future, for example, assessing infrastructure and monitoring our coast. I think we have got to be much more careful before we start to see unfettered use of unmanned vehicles across our society.”
Amazon and the CAA did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
The full email chain can be seen below:
- Top IoT Companies to Watch & Invest In
- Best IoT Conferences & Expos
- IoT Wearable Devices & Technology
- How the IoT Will Affect Security & Privacy
- Ultimate IoT Research Bundle
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.