Amazon proposes drone superhighways

Amazon has unveiled a bold plan to have dedicated airspace for drones, where its delivery drones and others can zip around autonomously at high speed

Amazon has a plan for drone superhighways in the sky.


The company wants to divide uncontrolled airspace, which is under 500 feet, into three bands. One will provide a fast lane for its proposed Prime Air delivery drones and other commercial craft.

“A no fly zone between 400 and 500 feet. A high-speed transit zone between 200 and 400, local operations below 200.”

Amazon also wants drones to automatically communicate and navigate so there are no humans involved and no collisions.

“And everybody in the air speaking the same language. Sharing the same protocols, going to the same standards bodies and able to maintain self separation”

Current FAA regulations allow drone flight by a human operator within line of sight, but this will have to change if companies like Amazon are to use drones as they imagine. Prime Air idea envisages delivering goods across cities in 30 minutes or less and Google is also investigating a similar idea.

Kimchi delivered his vision at a conference at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.

“It’s really a call for action. This is why we are here today. This is why we are here this week. We need to come together as an industy, both public and private, NASA and Amazon, many other companies here. We have to define and adapt standards that are interoperable of how we share the airspace.”

Companies see great promise in drones and the FAA has begun allowing some limited commercial use, but regulators are under pressure to open up the skies. They are cautious for good reason.

“We have the largest, most complex, most diverse, the busiest and the safest air transportation system on planet Earth, but it’s not a birth right. And so the number one goal of the FAA is to do this work to protect that.

These are just commercial flights above the U.S. and there are many other planes in the sky, so fitting drones in has safety implications.

But NASA, which is investigating next-generation air traffic control, was receptive to Amazon’s proposal.

“They really have done careful thinking. I think the approach or proposal is fairly reasonable, and i also thought it’s very practical. Something that we can actually work together to implement.”

There’s still a lot of work ahead. At the current regulatory pace, commercial delivery drones aren’t expected to take off until at least 2017 if not later.