Amazon prepares Prime Air brand as drone tests begin

Amazon: the Civil Aviation Authority has approved trials of drone deliveries
Amazon: the Civil Aviation Authority has approved trials of drone deliveries

Brands' use of drones has so far had more to do with PR stunts than serious attempts to deliver goods. But one company aiming to build the remotely controlled aircraft into its business model is Amazon.

The online retailer revealed last month that it would be running trials to prove the safety of using drones for delivery, after the Civil Aviation Authority gave its permission.

"This brings Amazon closer to our goal of using drones to safely deliver parcels in 30 minutes to customers in the UK and elsewhere around the world," Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice-president of global innovation policy and communications, said.

No other company will be involved in the trial, according to the CAA, so this could put the online retail giant another step ahead of the likes of Argos and Royal Mail.

But Amazon’s vision of the future has plenty of regulatory, technical and, ultimately, consumer hurdles to overcome, Alice Enders, head of research at Enders Analysis, points out. The company has published a paper estimating that, initially, just 2.3 million households would be within range of the Prime Air service.

"It is hard to think of the sort of thing you would want to summon by drone delivery with a 30-minute wait," Enders says. "Maybe premium personal care products, for example – your hairdryer breaks and you have an important meeting."

Amazon and Google have tried to test drones in the US but have been denied permission by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Rob Leeks, innovation director at Iris, adds: "I see the service falling into two camps – a genuine need for speedy delivery or impulse purchases for the ‘always-on’ generation. 

"One example might be if a cyclist gets a puncture and orders a new inner tube ‘on the go’, which would be genuinely useful."

Getting consumers to feel the need for speed will be Amazon’s marketing challenge if Prime Air is to get off the ground, and the brand has already started to try to create demand.

A promotional video, fronted by Jeremy Clarkson, shows a family receiving an emergency drone delivery of football boots so their daughter can still play that day after hers were chewed up by the family dog.

Puma is afforded product placement as the brand of fooball boots ordered, although neither Amazon nor Puma  would clarify if this was a commercial deal or whether it would continue in future promotions.

Amazon could conceivably sell the media opportunity of being the first product to be delivered by drone, but it would be better off selling its own products, chief executive Pete Davis believes.

But, initially, Amazon needs to focus on proving that nothing will go wrong up in the air. "The liability is firmly on Amazon," Enders says. "One can surmise that Prime Air will be statistically 100% drop-proof by the time it launches or the CAA would be unlikely to give it the go-ahead."

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