Amazon Proposes High-Speed ‘Drone Zones’

Retailer wants to transform low-level airspace.

Amazon is proposing a “drone zone” in the airspace below 400 feet to facilitate high-speed delivery of packages to customers who just can’t wait to get their hands on the latest gadgets from the online retailing giant.

The proposal calls for crafting new operating rules in Class G airspace below 500 feet to keep unmanned aerial vehicles and passenger aircraft separated. Under the proposal, drones would be permitted to fly up to 200 feet at low speed and from 200 to 400 feet at high speeds, while manned aircraft could fly as low as 500 feet, leaving a 100-foot buffer in between.

There are some potential problems with the proposal, obviously. For example, Amazon doesn’t explain how medevac helicopters would safely transition through the drone zone to land at the scene of an accident. The plan also doesn’t address how Amazon would deliver packages by air to customers in places with more complex airspace, where most live.

To keep drones from running into each other, they would employ sense-and-avoid technology, Amazon says. This could also keep them from running into helicopters or ag sprayers in the drone zone but not into airplanes without transponders or ADS-B gear conducting off-airport landings.

Gur Kimchi, vice president of Amazon Prime Air, revealed the drone zone plan this week at an Unmanned Aerial Systems Traffic Management convention hosted by NASA and the Silicon Valley Chapter of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. The conference, which wraps up today, was held at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

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