Amazon to trial drone delivery in the UK

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Online retail giant Amazon has approached the government about trialling a delivery service using drones in the UK, transport minister Robert Goodwill has confirmed.

The under secretary of state was speaking at a press conference for driverless cars, and made the comments when discussing the government's role in embracing wider technology.

"I had some people from Amazon coming to see me the other day; they want to replace van deliveries with drone deliveries, and they can't do any trials in the US because they're over-regulated.

"So my favourite word is deregulation, and we need to make sure that wherever you are in the world, and if you want to innovate and you want to invest in this sort of technology, come to the UK because we're here to help you."

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the US last week approved Amazon's plan to begin testing drones for online deliveries, though the e-commerce firm first made the request in July last year. The project, called Amazon Prime Air, was first revealed in a YouTube video in late 2013.

Amazon's Paul Misener wrote in a letter to the FAA in December: "Without approval of our testing in the United States, we will be forced to continue expanding our Prime Air R&D footprint abroad."

Under US law, operating drones for commercial purposes is illegal, however it is allowed in the UK if permission is granted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The FAA is said to be currently reviewing its rules on drones, with new regulations expected to be announced in the near future.

In the US, the flying of unmanned aircraft, including recreational drones, is banned above 400ft. Any flight that takes place within five miles of an airport can also only occur once air traffic control has been notified.

The UK's CAA has laid out guidelines for drone users that specify that unmanned aircraft must always be flown within the "line of sight" of the pilot, which it generally measures at 1,600ft horizontally and 400ft vertically.

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This remains a stumbling block for Amazon and other companies as it means they would only be able to deliver items within 1,600ft of their warehouses.

So far, law enforcement of drone regulation breaches in the UK appear to have been relatively tolerant. Chief inspector Nick Aldworth, of the Metropolitan Police, told a House of Lords select committee on piloted aircraft systems that tourists had been caught flying drones in parts of central London, despite laws restricting use close to buildings and congested areas.

"We have decided not to enforce the legislation that exists, even though they were in contravention of it, because it did not seem proportionate," he said.

Chinese internet giant Alibaba is also currently carrying out its own private trials of drone technology for deliveries.

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