Amazon Loses Two Key Drone Delivery Executives – Report

Amazon has reportedly lost two key executives associated with its long standing drone delivery operation.

CNBC reported that Amazon has lost two executives key to the company’s drone delivery operations, after Jim Mullin (Prime Air’s chief pilot) left Amazon last month, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Meanwhile the LinkedIn profile of Robert Dreer, who reported to Mullin and was responsible for all of Prime Air’s test operations, departed last week for a role at electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft startup Opener.

Amazon Prime Air Drone. Image credit Amazon

Drone departures

According to CNBC, Mullin oversaw Prime Air safety and regulatory compliance, as well as site leads at the unit’s facilities in Oregon, California and Texas.

This is not the first time that Amazon’s drone operations have been hit by departures.

In November 2020 it was reported that Amazon had laid off dozens of R&D and manufacturing staff working on its delivery drone service Amazon Prime Air.

CNBC this week reported that the two key executives who have departed, had been based at Prime Air’s main site in Pendleton, Oregon.

Their departures have not been reported on publicly beyond their individual posts, and neither responded to requests for comment over LinkedIn, CNBC reported.

Amazon reportedly declined to comment on their departures.

Last week Amazon shares rose sharply after the company reported a massive profit boost driven by strong sales across its range of offerings, from retail to cloud services.

Amazon was one of many tech companies that have cut thousands of workers in recent months due to a slowdown in 2022 that followed a spike in unsustainable growth during the pandemic.

The company last week said it had experienced a strong recovery in retail, saying it had been able to cut delivery time and costs.

Long development

One of the ways Amazon has been betting on to improve delivery times is the use of drones, which Amazon has experimented with for the best part of a decade.

But the arrival of drone delivery has been hampered by both regulatory problems, as a number of crashes. CNBC reported that there has been multiple reported incidents between 2020 and 2021.

More recently, on 21 June 2023 during tests at the Pendleton site, a drone made an emergency landing in a field and was destroyed, according to a federal crash report viewed by CNBC. Nobody was injured, the report stated.

Amazon has been plotting to use drones for deliveries for many years now, having first mooted the idea back in 2013.

The idea is that drones can deliver packages weighing up to 2.3 kilograms in under 30 minutes.

Amazon’s first concept delivery drone, MK4. Image credit: Amazon

Amazon at one stage also patented the idea of a possible floating mothership retail hub (a warehouse in the sky) for drone deliveries.

But the whole concept of drone deliveies has been hindered by regulatory red tape and delays.

Amazon had already tested drone deliveries in the United Kingdom. This occurred when Amazon began testing its delivery drone service in Cambridge in July 2016.

A package was delivered, by drone, in just 13 minutes.

But in the US, airspace restrictions led to years of frustrations for drone companies.

In 2015 for example Amazon said it had been testing its “Prime Air” delivery drones in Canada’s British Columbia, after the e-commerce giant had previously criticised the US rules as an overly restrictive to the technology.

In June 2019 the FAA granted Amazon a permit to operate its updated drone in the United States, before it issued in September this year a Part 135 air carrier certificate, which must be held before a company begins drone deliveries.

As a result Amazon said it would begin drone deliveries “within months”, but that didn’t pan out.

Finally in 2022 Amazon announced its plans to begin commercial drone delivery services, pending final regulatory approval.

In August 2022 Amazon received the final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to use drones for package deliveries in two areas.

In December 2022 Amazon began delivering orders by drone, after ‘Amazon Prime Air’ began operating in Lockeford, California. and College Station, Texas.

Lockeford has a population of about 3,500, and is located between Sacramento and Modesto.

College Station meanwhile is located roughly 100 miles north west of Houston.

Drone deliveries in those two launch locations have remained way short of division head David Carbon’s target of 10,000 this year, CNBC reported.

Amazon reportedly said it has completed hundreds of deliveries at those locations.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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