- Amazon started drone delivery in one town in California and one in Texas in December.
- As of mid-January, the company had made deliveries to fewer than 10 houses, The Information reported.
- The FAA is blocking Amazon’s drones from flying over people or roads without case by case permission, according to The Information.
Since December, residents in Lockeford, California and College Station, Texas who order products on Amazon have had a chance of receiving them by drone.
But as of mid-January, only two households in California had received a total of three deliveries between them, and around five households in Texas had received packages, The Information reported Wednesday, citing people familiar with the project.
The paltry numbers are surprising given the fanfare the company has drummed up about drone delivery.
In 2020, Insider reported that Amazon’s Prime Air was issued an approval certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration, FAA, to use “unmanned aircraft systems” in a commercial operation. However, the FAA actually included dozens of conditions and limitations that affect its ability to operate, which the company has downplayed until recently. In the summer of 2022, Amazon announced that it had decided upon Lockeford and, subsequently, College Station, as its test sites for drone delivery.
By December 2022, Amazon had begun making deliveries to customers in the two towns.
But a recent report by The Information’s Theo Wayt which examined FAA records, along with comments from FAA representatives, and Amazon employees and representatives, found that the FAA is “blocking Amazon’s drones from flying over roads or people without case-by-case permission.”
That’s curtailed the number of deliveries Amazon’s Prime Air can make.
One reason might be because Amazon’s drones are pretty heavy, coming in at 80 lbs when empty, even though the packages it can carry have a weight limit of 5 lbs.
“The possibility of Amazon’s nearly-90-pound drone falling from the sky onto our home, onto our car, onto our children was nerve-wracking,” Insider reported Amina Alikhan, a College Station resident, saying at a public meeting last summer.
A spokesperson for the FAA provided Insider with an exemption the FAA issued to Amazon on November 9, 2022 that maintains many of the restrictions it originally put in place in an exemption it issued the company in 2020, largely preventing the company from flying over roads and people without permission.
However, the FAA’s exemption to Alphabet’s Wing, and Walmart’s drone delivery partners Flytrex and Zipline — whose drones range between 10 lbs to 40 lbs empty — allow them to fly over roadways, according to The Information.
Added to that, Amazon’s drones have crashed several times during testing, with one igniting an “acres-wide brush fire” in 2021 Insider reported.
Amazon’s rolling layoffs — the largest in the company’s history— have also drastically whittled down the company’s drone safety teams in Lockeford, College Station, and the test site in Pendleton, Oregon where the fire occurred, Insider reported, citing comments from former and current employees.
Amazon did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for a comment.