Supply Chain Industry News: Amazon Prime Air Takes Off

Supply Chain Industry News: Amazon Prime Air Takes Off

Amazon’s supply chain has officially taken to the skies. On December 7, the online retail giant made its first Prime Air drone delivery to one of two trial customers living near the new Air Fulfillment Center near Cambridge, England. The entire transaction reportedly took just thirteen minutes from placement of the order to delivery of the merchandise.

Flying at a maximum of 400 feet, Amazon’s fully autonomous drone uses GPS to complete its mission, but important issues limit a widespread rollout of the air delivery system.

Fortune reports that there are still “safety regulations on drones that would ultimately impact how Amazon could operate its service. And since drones can only travel so far, Amazon will need to establish strategically placed logistics buildings around the world to accommodate orders. Moreover, Prime Air drones can currently only carry packages of five pounds or less, leaving many of the items Amazon sells unable to be shipped by the method.”

If the rollout is successful, drone shipping could save Amazon significant money over the ground shipping methods currently in use.

As for those strategically placed fulfillment centers, an interesting solution exists. CNN reports that Amazon was granted a patent in April of 2016 that would create a unique distribution system.

Blimps circling cities at 45,000 feet would act as air-warehouses, dropping drones that would fly to their destinations, then to shuttle craft that would return them to the blimp. It’s unclear if the system could function safely near busy, commercial air spaces, but it might be useful for deliveries to large entertainment venues, like music festivals and sporting events.

Whether or not these flying warehouses will actually be developed and tested remains to be seen, but Amazon plans to expand its number of Prime Air test customers in the coming months.