Heathrow crash makes ecommerce delivery drones even more pie in the sky

When Amazon announced that they were exploring the possibility of delivering goods using unmanned airborne drones a year or so ago, it had all the hallmarks of a joke. But it soon became clear that delivery drones were genuinely under consideration, to the extent that Amazon has subsequently opened a lab in Cambridge to develop the concept.

And Jeremy Clarkson has also been drafted in to sell the idea. The drones that Amazon are developing would carry 2kg loads for up to 15 miles from an Amazon warehouse. No word was offered on how they were thinking about delivering to customers without a garden area that would serve as a landing place though. (I certainly don’t have a lawn that would serve as such and I bet lots of people in urban areas would say the same.)

But on Sunday, it seems that the drone idea hit what could well be a significant obstacle when one struck a plane near Heathrow. Noone was hurt and the plane was undamaged but it doesn’t bode well.

Clarkson is persuasive about what a drone delivery might look like in a perfect world. But he doesn’t mention the regulatory problems that exist in the UK and the US. Alibaba too is testing drones and there are similar concerns in China. Whether national and international aviation authorities will be willing to relax the existing rules regarding drones remains to be seen.

So is it actually a goer? It seems hard to see that it can ever be profitable and sustainable. And if you consider the possible future, if Amazon and the like have their way, then what you have is an urban airspace buzzing with drones as they head out to make (mostly small) deliveries. It might well be convenient. But it sounds like a sic-fi dystopia waiting to happen.

What do you reckon?