Amazon reportedly stalled FAA inquiries into delivery drone crashes [Update]

Amazon drone delivery

The bad news for Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery operation continues to pile up, most recently with a report claiming the company repeatedly stalled or otherwise impeded efforts by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to investigate crash incidents.

That allegation was published this week by Business Insider. It was based on public documents containing descriptions by FAA officials of ways Amazon representatives delayed inquiries into crashes of the company’s delivery drone test models. At least eight of those craft have crashed over the past year, with one ruled responsible for the outbreak of a brush fire over a 20-acre area of Oregon. 

Read more: Amazon delivery drone crash sparked acres-wide fire in Oregon: FAA 

The initial BI article was followed up on Thursday with a report containing details from FAA officials saying a meeting looking into one drone crash was postponed by an Amazon representative claiming to have a conflicting dentist appointment. The same document cited assertions the company had not provided photos or other necessary information of an incident a full month after it had occurred. Others recounted wreckage of crashed test UAVs having been removed from accident sites by Amazon before FAA personnel could inspect them.

The second article also quotes an Amazon official calling the account “misleading and inaccurate.”

May 20 Update

In an email to DroneDJ, Amazon assured Prime Air has maintained positive and longstanding relationships with the FAA, and has respected agency rules and subsequent requests in incidents of crashes of its test drones, as well as those of the National Transportation Safety Board.

“Prime Air has complied with all incident reporting, investigation, and other applicable regulatory requirements,” said Amazon spokesperson Av Zammit. “Like any responsible company testing a new kind of aircraft, we use a closed, private facility to test our systems up to their limits and beyond. With rigorous testing like this, we expect incidents like these to occur, and we apply the learnings from each flight towards improving safety overall. All our testing is done in compliance with all applicable regulations.”

Given the reputation of Amazon and its owner as the “world’s biggest” (fill in the blank appropriately), critics often jump on confounding developments the company encounters to scratch their schadenfreude itch. Amazon Prime Air has provided that relief on a recurring basis.

Since opening in 2013, Amazon’s drone delivery operation has faced repeated setbacks. Though it has FAA authorization to operate that service in the US, the company has yet to roll out UAV transport to customers, and is now looking to 2024 to commence that activity. 

Things haven’t gone great elsewhere, either. Last year featured press reports that painted Amazon’s UK operation as so dysfunctional and unprepared employees described it as “collapsing inwards,” and a “giant oversell.” One likened the resulting high turnover of managers to “rats jumping off a ship,” with one former staffer predicting it “is never going to get off the ground.”

Read moreAmazon drone delivery program ‘never going to get off the ground,’ UK report reveals 

A few months later, meanwhile, news reports characterized Amazon as effectively disbanding staff of the drone delivery development center it set up in 2017 outside of Paris. This week’s allegations it side-stepped FAA investigations into crashes lengthens that tale of woe with a bitter ironic twist, given the company’s earlier attempts to create a flight simulator designed to make crashes nearly impossible.

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