If Amazon and Google had their way, the skies would be full of buzzing drones, busily delivering parcels direct to your driveway. In fact, Amazon famously released a video of such a miraculous event.

But it seems the authorities have other ideas. You see, the skies are full of other stuff. Yes, birds. But also passenger aircraft. Yep, those things carrying 300 human beings happy to perch on top of 36,000 gallons of aviation fuel at speeds of around 600mph.

Should a drone come into contact with one of these metal birds, speculation is rife as to what might happen. Speculation suggests the outcome won’t be a good one.

Ministers have recently committed £250,000 to test the effect of flying drones directly into mid-flight aeroplanes. We suspect it might be similar to when a mouse runs up the trunk of an elephant.

But parcel delivery firms such as Amazon are desperate to find out whether drones could be used to reduce the burden on the roads.

If reports from the US are anything to go by, the answer is a big bouncy No. Although the Obama administration gave the green light to commercial drone flights, it seems it’s in only a very limited way.

How limited? Well, drone and package mustn’t exceed 55lbs and they mustn’t fly over anyone not involved in the transaction. Oh, and they can’t be out of sight of the trained pilot.

That’s all hunky dory, then, for Amazon, provided they build a giant warehouse staffed by a qualified drone pilot in the back garden of every home in America. Job done. Except that might not be cost-effective. Even for Amazon.

Not that anything as mildly inconvenient as impossibility is stopping them. Deep in the heart of Cambridge is a secret lab where the company is building and testing drones that can deliver packages to customers’ homes in just half an hour.

The drones will use GPS coordinates and fly to only 400 feet before landing using a ‘sense-and-avoid’ system. And it seems there may be hope for Amazon, at least here in the UK.
This summer, the Civil Aviation Authority lifted strict drone flying restrictions so that Amazon could test sensor performance to make sure the drones can identify and avoid obstacles.

Not that any of that is going to reassure any nervous flyers. Holiday this year? We thought Grimsby might be nice.

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Author Chris Painter

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