Amazon’s drone fleet is late to deliver

Fake names and leadership shake-ups: Here’s a look inside Prime Air.

June 10, 2020

Photo by Peter Endig/picture alliance via Getty Images

The company that made 2-day shipping famous is not known for its delays. But Prime Air — Amazon’s drone army for packages under 5 pounds — is behind schedule.

In 2013, Bezos said the drones could be up and running in 4 or 5 years. Then, last June, an Amazon higher-up said to expect Prime Air’s takeoff “within months.”

Now we’re almost halfway through 2020, and, uh, where is Prime Air? Business Insider got ahold of an internal report that now predicts an August 31 launch date.

This should be Amazon’s big moment

The drone delivery biz is flying high right now. Thanks to the pandemic, drone honchos from Zipline to Alphabet’s Wing have been shipping medical supplies, pasta, and baby food. 

About 20k delivery drones roam our skies today, and by 2026, the research firm Gartner predicts that number is going to hit 1m+. 

But during this peak in drone deliveries, the Everything Store has faded into the background.

A look inside Prime Air 

Here are some highlights from the Business Insider report: 

  • Prime Air’s longtime leader left his role in March, one of several high-profile shake-ups.
  • The project is so sensitive that employees have their ID cards covered with a “black shield.” They can’t share the address of their nondescript Seattle office. And when asked who they work for, they use fake names like “Project Venice.”
  • FAA regulation requires that companies keep a line of sight on their drones at all times — and while Amazon asked for an exemption last July, the wait has dragged on.

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