February 23, 2024

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The Amazon drone delivery manager who oversaw FAA relations is leaving

The Amazon drone delivery manager who oversaw FAA relations is leaving

An Amazon delivery drone is displayed at Amazon’s BOS27 Robotics Innovation Hub in Westborough, Massachusetts on November 10, 2022.

Joseph Prezioso | AFP | Getty Images

Amazon has lost a senior executive at its drone delivery unit, who was the company’s primary contact with federal regulators, CNBC has learned.

Sean Cassidy, Prime Air’s director of safety, flight operations and regulatory affairs, announced his departure from the company last week in an internal memo to employees, a copy of which was seen by CNBC. Amazon hired Cassidy, a former Alaska Airlines pilot and vice president of the world’s largest pilots’ union, was appointed in 2015 to oversee strategic partnerships in the drone program.

“This is my last day on Prime Air and at Amazon, so I want to express my deepest thanks to my many friends and colleagues here who have made this nearly nine-year journey an amazing experience,” Cassidy wrote in his post. note.

Cassidy oversaw much of Amazon’s relationship with the FAA as it sought to launch an ambitious drone delivery program, a pet project of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Bezos And he expected A decade ago, a fleet of Amazon drones would take to the skies in about five years, dropping packages on customers’ doorsteps in 30 minutes or less. This vision did not materialize as quickly as Bezos had hoped.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Cassidy’s departure.

In August 2020, Amazon received Part 135 certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), allowing it to use drones to deliver packages, but with some restrictions. Last year, Amazon announced that it would begin testing drone deliveries in two small markets in California and Texas.

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But while the program appeared poised to expand, Prime Air in January was hit with layoffs as part of broader job cuts at Amazon. It also suffered organizational setbacks and faced difficulties in achieving delivery targets. In August, the unit lost two key operations executives, CNBC previously reported.

David Carbone, Amazon’s head of drone delivery and a former Boeing executive, had previously set an internal goal of making 10,000 deliveries in 2023 between the two test sites.

Amazon He said In October, its drones had “safely delivered hundreds of household items” in College Station, Texas, and since December 2022, it had begun delivering medications by drone in the area. The announcement did not say how many deliveries were made at Lockford, California, the company’s other testing site.

In late October, Amazon passed a significant regulatory measure when the Federal Aviation Administration revised restrictions that dictated where and how its drones could fly. Cassidy wrote to the FAA in July asking the agency to allow Amazon to fly drones out of the sight of a “visual spotter,” or an employee who watches the drone in flight to ensure it is avoiding hazards, according to the government. filings. Prime Air spent years developing an aircraft, Cassidy said Detect and avoid system. For its MK27-2 drone, which allows the vehicle to steer clear of aircraft, people and pets, as well as stationary objects such as chimneys, eliminating the need for visual spotters.

On October 23, the Federal Aviation Administration approved Amazon’s request, loosening restrictions on where its drones can operate, allowing them to fly over roads and cars when necessary to complete a route. Some restrictions remain in place, such as rules prohibiting drones from flying over outdoor gatherings of people and schools during working hours.

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It hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing since then. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the Nov. 10 crash at Amazon’s drone testing site in Pendleton, Oregon, according to a federal accident report seen by CNBC. The drone suffered “significant” damage during the incident, but no one was injured, and no fires or explosions occurred at the site.

The NTSB said it is conducting a Level 4 investigation into the incident, which it considers limited in scope compared to other investigations.

It follows a separate incident at the Pendleton site in June, where a drone made an emergency landing in a field and was destroyed. Amazon said at the time that it was testing its drone systems “to their limits and beyond” and that it had informed regulators of the incident.

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