Amazon dreams of drones-only airspace

How do you combat drone safety worries? Dedicate airspace purely for commercial drones to operate.


Amazon has laid out plans for airspace across the United States dedicated to commercial drones.

As our airspace becomes increasingly crowded, regulators are scrambling to keep up with the recent explosion in interest related to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), otherwise known as drones.

UAVs have not only captured the interest of consumers and enthusiasts, but companies such as Amazon and Google are exploring how drones could slot into future business models. Amazon Air, for example, is a project unveiled at the end of 2013 designed to explore same-day delivery for products ordered online by Prime members.

While the idea of using drones in businesses has become more than a novelty and uses range from delivery to land monitoring and surveillance, safety concerns have naturally arisen.

There have been a number of near misses within the UK recently when drone operators have come too close to commercial aircraft, leading to calls for tough restrictions on UAV flight and possible jail time if these rules are broken.

A way to combat this emerging problem is to assign UAVs their own slice of airspace -- or so Amazon believes. On Tuesday, the online retail giant related such a proposal to attendees at a NASA-hosted conference in the San Francisco Bay area. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the Seattle, Washington-based firm proposed slicing US airspace into different segments for different types of drones -- including a "high-speed transit zone" from 200 feet to 400 feet above the ground, which would suit the firm's Air project admirably.

Under the plan, a buffer between 400 feet and 500 feet would prevent drones from colliding with commercial fleets and manned vehicles. Airplanes would therefore have to fly above 500 feet -- although it is yet to be explained how landing procedures would be affected -- while the 200 feet to 400 feet area would be split into two areas.

If UAVs are equipped with collision and obstacle-avoiding sensors, they would be able to use the high-speed zone. Consumer drones and others without sensors would be limited to the "low-speed localized traffic" zone.

Naturally, the proposal bans the use of drones around airports.

See also: Endanger aircraft with your drone and enjoy time behind bars, UK demands

Amazon says drones should be monitored while in the air, borrowing from ideas proposed in an NASA plan for a drone traffic control system.

If such proposals become reality, companies will effectively be given the go-ahead to plunge further into the realm of commercial drone development. However, our orders being delivered by drones are likely to be years away -- as such proposals must be scrutinized and implemented by the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), and under current guidelines, drones must remain within an operator's line of sight, which effectively bans the use of UAVs for deliveries.

Speaking to the publication, Amazon Air chief Gur Kimchi said the proposal would help create a safe airspace environment which also catered for commercial UAVs. Kimchi commented:

"We want a model that's open-ended for innovation, and a big part of that is how you change what exists today."

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