In 2013, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s former CEO, announced 30-minutes drone deliveries by the company. In addition, the company presented a redesign of its Prime Air delivery drone in 2019. The drone possessed the ability to fly vertically, and Amazon implied to launch it later that year. Finally, in 2020, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) approved Amazon to operate as a drone airline. But, after almost ten years, the project of drone deliveries has yet to come out of testing mode. According to Bloomberg, a high employee turnover rate and potential safety risks are the major failures of the drone program by Amazon.
Five drone crashes during testing
A Bloomberg report claimed five drone crashes in four months at Amazon’s testing site in Pendleton, Oregon. Additionally, last May, a drone crashed after losing its propeller. But, Amazon cleaned the wreckage before the FAA could investigate. However, Av Zammit, Amazon’s spokesperson, denied the claim. Instead, he said the company documented the event and moved the drone following orders from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
Moreover, in June, a drone crashed due to its motor shutting down. Consequently, the failure of two safety features led to the engine shutting off. Interestingly, it occurred when the drone switched from an upward flight path to flying straight ahead. Hence, the drone flipped and dropped 160 feet from the air. As a result, it led to a brush fire across 25 acres of land, put down by the local fire department.
Amazon’s employees’ statements
Many former and current employees claim that Amazon is neglecting safety to prioritize the rapid launch of the drone program. Cheddi Skeete, a former drone project manager at Amazon, said he was fired last month for voicing safety concerns. He said he refused to test a drone that crashed five days ago. However, his manager told him that the team had inspected 180 engines on 30 different drones. But, Skeete was still skeptical as checking motors was a complex process. A former drone flight assistant for Amazon, David Johnson, revealed that Amazon sometimes performed tests “without a full flight team” and “inadequate equipment.” He also said that the company assigned multiple roles to one person with a “very narrow time window.”
Amazon denied all such claims
Despite several reports by former employees, Amazon denied all claims regarding the drone delivery project. Av Zammit stated that the company has a safety reporting system, known by all team members. He said that since “we take safety reporting seriously, we encourage team members to raise any suggestions and concerns.” He added that Amazon also “encourages employees to provide any other feedback to their manager or HR.”
Furthermore, Zammit also rejected Johnson’s claims stating, “Crew members are assigned to only one role per flight.” He further elaborated that Amazon “does not set time limits for completing any aspect of flight tests.” He also pointed out that the “team can take their time to complete their roles safely.”
Zammit also noted that the NTSB never tagged any of Amazon’s drone delivery test flights as an accident. He remarked that none of those tests resulted in injuries or put structures at risk. Zammit repeatedly claims that “safety is our top priority.” In any case, the conclusion is that the drone delivery project by Amazon is still not off the ground. So, it remains to be seen whether it will be able to overcome all the hurdles and successfully take off.