The UK’s National Air Traffic Control Service (NATS) is planning to scrap the rule that prevents drone pilots to fly their unmanned aerial vehicles beyond line-of-sight. This would open up the opportunity for companies like Amazon to start making deliveries by drone to customers as early as 2019.

DJI Mavic Pro

Drone deliveries are ready to take off in the UK

The Times reports that rules that prohibited drone flights beyond line-of-sight are now being changed, opening up the British skies for package-carrying unmanned aerial vehicles. Andy Sage, head of drones for NATS, said in an interview with the newspaper, routine “out-of-sight” operations could start as early as next year.

The testing of deliveries-by-drone has been hampered by legal roadblocks in the US and other countries, forcing companies like Amazon and Google to start testing abroad. Currently, such trials are taking place in the UK and Australia.

Under Trump’s “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot‘ program drone delivery trials may soon start in the US, as the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation will allow at least 10 companies to start testing. However, it now seems that the UK is taking a much more aggressive approach and will scrap the line-of-sight rule entirely.

This recent study showed that drone deliveries for small packages often have less impact on the environment than traditional delivery services by (diesel) truck.

David Harrison Nats’ Director of Safety said it’s “vital” that the UK prepares infrastructure for drones.

“The increasing popularity of commercial drone operations and the growing number of drone-related incidents makes it essential that we take steps now to help make this happen, and this new partnership will get the UK’s unmanned traffic industry off to a safe, flying start.”

However, not everybody is convinced. In a statement sent to The Sun, supply chain expert Mike Danby, who leads a logistics company that works with top brands like Asos, New Look, and Adidas, had this to say about drone deliveries

“While it’s interesting to hear that drones will safely share airspace with conventional aircraft, there’s still some way to go before we see Amazon-style deliveries landing on doorsteps. There are countless issues to first overcome, particularly around infrastructure, privacy and security, and avoiding interference with the package.”

DroneDJ’s take

We believe that there are significant benefits to having packages delivered by drone. In many cases, it will be cheaper, faster and have less impact on the environment. Especially where they replace deliveries that otherwise would be made by diesel trucks. However, it is clear that there are still many hurdles to overcome and regulation is probably one of the most obvious ones as are safety and privacy concerns. Removing the line-of-sight requirement in the UK is an important step forward in making drone deliveries a reality. Interestingly though, London announced only a few weeks ago that it is not ready for new technologies such as drone deliveries, so there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Companies that are currently testing drone deliveries are:

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