Amazon Prime Air
Amazon Prime Air is a cargo airline and conceptual drone-based delivery system currently in development by Amazon.com. The cargo side is based at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron, Kentucky, near Cincinnati, Ohio. The hub began operations on April 30, 2017 and will quickly expand under a $1.49-billion expansion plan with 40 Boeing 767-300F's and 200 daily takeoff and landings.
On January 31, 2017, Amazon announced that Amazon Prime Air would make Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport its principal hub with flights beginning on May 1, 2017. Amazon received $40 million in tax incentives and plans to begin construction on a 920-acre facility with a 3 million sq-ft sorting facility and parking space for 100 cargo aircraft. Amazon initially plans to base 40 Boeing 767-300F aircraft at CVG to operate 200 daily takeoff and landing across the U.S. and internationally. All together, the hub will create 2,700 jobs in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area. The aircraft will be operated by a combination of crews from Air Transport International and Atlas Air, who are currently receiving freighter conversions.
On December 1, 2013, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos revealed plans for Amazon Prime Air in an interview on 60 Minutes. Amazon Prime Air will use multirotor Miniature Unmanned Air Vehicle (Miniature UAV), otherwise known as drone, technology to autonomously fly individual packages to customers’ doorsteps within 30 minutes of ordering. To qualify for 30 minute delivery, the order must be less than 5 pounds (2.26 kg), must be small enough to fit in the cargo box that the craft will carry, and must have a delivery location within a 10-mile radius of a participating Amazon order fulfillment center. 86% of packages sold by Amazon fit the weight qualification of the program.
On December 7, 2016, Amazon successfully delivered a Prime Air parcel to an actual customer in the Cambridge area of England, UK. They have also built a Prime Air fulfillment center in the Cambridge area which will soon be opened to "dozens of customers", then "hundreds more in the future". The company posted a video on their official YouTube channel on December 14, 2016 showing the successful delivery. The company's CEO, Jeff Bezos, also tweeted about the success.
Presently, one of the biggest hurdles facing Amazon Prime Air in the USA is the fact that commercial use of UAV technology is not yet legal there. In the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Congress issued the Federal Aviation Administration a deadline of September 30, 2015 to accomplish a "safe integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system."
In March 2015 the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted Amazon permission to begin US testing of a prototype. The company responded by claiming that the vehicle cleared for use was obsolete. In April 2015, the agency allowed the company to begin testing its current models. In the interim, the company had begun testing at a secret Canadian site 2,000 ft (610 m) from the US border.
The agency mandated that Amazon's drones fly no higher than 400 ft (122 m), no faster than 100 mph (161 km/h), and remain within the pilot's line of sight. These rules are consistent with a proposed set of FAA guidelines. Ultimately, Amazon hopes to operate in a slice of airspace above 200 ft (61 m) and beneath 500 ft (152 m), with 500 ft being where general aviation begins. It plans to fly drones weighing a maximum of 55 lb (25 kg) within a 10 mi (16 km) radius of its warehouses, at speeds of up to 50 mph (80.5 km/h) with packages weighing up to 5 lb (2.26 kg) in tow.
One issue the company faces is the need for special fulfillment centres which require special technology to accommodate drone operations within a certain radius. The company appeared to suggest in their video that they will need to build special fulfillment centres close to where the drones will be delivering items. It is clear that this is a huge hurdle which the company will need to overcome in the near future. On the 15th of December 2016, Amazon began its first publicly available trial of Amazon Prime Air to those within several miles of Amazon's depot in Cambridge.
Public concerns regarding this technology include public safety, privacy, and package security issues. Amazon states that "Safety will be our top priority, and our vehicles will be built with multiple redundancies and designed to commercial aviation standards." However, while privacy and security remain concerns, the FAA's recently proposed rules for small UAS operations and certifications only provides provisions on its technical and functional aspects.
The fact that the drone's navigational airspace exists below 400 feet is a big step toward safety management. In February 2016, the FAA established a committee to develop guidelines for regulating safe UAV flight over populated areas.
Concerns over the constant connection of the drones to the internet raises concerns over personal privacy. The primary purpose of drone internet connection will be to manage flight controls and communication between drones. However, the extent of Amazon's data collection from the drones is unclear. Some proposed data inputs include automated object detection, GPS surveillance, gigapixel cameras, and enhanced image resolution. Because of this, Amazon's operating center will collect unknown amounts of information, both intentionally and unintentionally, throughout the delivery process. Neither Amazon or the FAA has formed a clear policy on the management of this data.
Amazon Prime Air flies scheduled flights to the following destinations:
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