Even as Jeff Bezos touches ground after his recent space flight, Amazon’s drone delivery efforts on the British Isles could be heading for its own splashdown.
Wired is reporting Amazon Prime Air, the retail giant’s drone delivery arm, is laying off more than 100 employees in the UK and reshuffling dozens of job roles.
“Insiders claim the future of the UK operation, which launched in 2016 to help pioneer Amazon’s global drone delivery efforts, is now uncertain,” the report states.
Anonymous sources within the British Prime Air office told Wired the operation there was “collapsing inwards,” “dysfunctional” and represented “organized chaos” with managers in the division described as “detached from reality.”
While Amazon states the UK office is still functioning, it refused to release the number of current employees on the drone-delivery project.
Insiders tell Wired that Amazon Prime Air’s UK office has navigated choppy skies over the past few years:
“Cracks first began to show in the Prime Air project in late 2019 [with] managers being appointed who knew so little about the project they couldn’t answer basic work questions, an employee drinking beer at their desk in the morning and some staff being forced to train their replacements in Costa Rica.”
Fighting a crowded drone delivery airspace
Once regarded as the heir apparent to the drone delivery throne, Amazon has faced heavy competition over the last five years as major-league hitters like Walmart, Google’s Wing, and UPS have launched high-profile drone delivery trials.
In 2015, the FAA granted Amazon an experimental airworthiness certificate to the company’s logistics division. The certificate allowed Amazon to fly drones for development and crew training. The retailer first applied in July of that year after announcing its plans to get into the UAV delivery biz in 2013.
In 2019, UPS garnered the first full “Part 135 Standard” certification from the FAA — Alphabet spinoff Wing Aviation LLC (Wing) received a Part 135 Single pilot air carrier certificate for drone operations in April 2019. Wing and UPS Flight Forward received the certifications as part of the UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP). Also in 2019, Prime Air snagged approval to fly R&D missions in authorized flight areas.
Uncertain U.S. skies?
It’s unclear how Amazon’s UK shuffle will affect its drone delivery efforts in the U.S. Last year, the FAA gave the OK for Amazon operate its fleet of Prime Air delivery drones.
“This certification is an important step forward for Prime Air and indicates the FAA’s confidence in Amazon’s operating and safety procedures for an autonomous drone delivery service that will one day deliver packages to our customers around the world,” Amazon Prime Air VP David Carbon said at the time. “We will continue to develop and refine our technology to fully integrate delivery drones into the airspace and work closely with the FAA and other regulators around the world to realize our vision of 30-minute delivery.”
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
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