Something to look forward to: If you were wondering when (and if) Amazon would start dropping parcels into your backyard using a drone, the wait is over—well, sort of. In the run-up to Christmas, the company spent some time testing its autonomous drones in several US cities. The program only worked in small areas of California and Texas, but Amazon said it would expand drone delivery to other locations in the coming months.
Amazon has finally launched drone delivery after almost a decade of development. During the holidays, Amazon Prime Air sent a small number of packages to customers in Lockford, California, and College Station, Texas. The retail giant hopes to expand air delivery to other regions in the near future, but does not have specific deadlines for disclosure.
Lockford is a small rural village with a population of about 3,500 people in California, southeast of the state capital Sacramento. Its sparse population is an ideal testing ground for Amazon’s pilot program, which the company has promised to launch by the end of the year.
The routes to College Station were a bit unexpected, as the June announcement did not mention that drone delivery would be carried out outside of Lockford. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) completed an environmental impact assessment only earlier this month.
College Station is a medium—sized city with a population of about 120,000 people. So it’s a bit bigger than Lockford, but it makes sense that Amazon would want to test autonomous drones in more densely populated urban environments.
“Our goal is to safely present our drones in the sky. We are starting in these communities and will gradually expand deliveries to more customers over time,” the representative said.
All Amazon Prime members residing in two test zones are eligible for drone delivery if they live within four miles of the Prime Air Drone Delivery Center (PADDC) in Lockford or 3.73 miles from College Station PADDC. Each hub consists of four sectors, and only one drone can fly in a given quadrant at a time.
Delivery is carried out only during daylight hours five days a week. Amazon has stated that it can make no more than 50 deliveries to each sector per day. This frequency is about 4,000 drone deliveries per month in any given area. Customers using this service can expect that parcels will be delivered to their backyard within an hour after ordering.
In 2020, the FAA granted Amazon an air carrier certificate for Part 135. This permission allows operators to operate drones beyond the line of sight. Although Amazon Prime Air drones are autonomous, pilots still monitor them to ensure safety.