Why Amazon's Prime Air drone tests will be good for everyone

'It's about highlighting what issues there might be'

A cross-government team supported by the CAA has just given Amazon the OK to test its drones outside of the normal rules. The benefits for Amazon are obvious, but what is the government getting in return?

Amazon is testing its Prime Air service, which it plans to one day use to deliver packages to customers. By being given exemptions to the rules, the company is now allowed to fly its drones beyond the line of sight in both rural and suburban areas, test the drones' obstacle avoidance, and trial fleets of autonomous drones overseen by one person.

As for the CAA, it will be looking at Amazon's findings to help shape the future of commercial drone flying in the UK.

"From our perspective it's about highlighting what issues there might be, what there is to overcome, what technology needs to be developed to make that possible, and if that tech can be developed," said the CAA's Jon Nicholson.

"It's about how drones operating beyond line of sight can safely integrate with anything else that's in the airspace at the moment.

A long way to go

Nicholson also said the CAA "will absolutely be involved" with the testing process.

"We will be touching base with them to find out how it's going, what's happening," he said, "but it's up to them how often they test, how long they test for, and how long they want to test for."

He added that the CAA will be looking at how Amazon's drones work in the airspace with other users, but some questions around privacy and security that go beyond the CAA's responsibilities will need to be addressed by other bodies.

"At the moment that technology and environment doesn't exist for that to happen. These tests could show where those gaps are, where things need to be developed, and what those things are that fill those gaps. But it's a long way to go."