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Amazon sets its sights on drone highways
Christina Mulligan for InterDrone

“The development of an air-traffic system that fully enables the safe operations of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) in civil airspace, particularly highly automated vehicles operating beyond line of sight, is essential for realizing the enormous benefits of this technology in a safe and responsible manner,” the company wrote in a paper. “A good place to start in creating such a system is to clarify the use of the airspace.”

Under the proposed highway, the sky would be spilt into different levels of flying: a no-fly zone, a high-speed transit lane, a low-speed localized lane, and a predefined low-risk lane. Drones delivering goods such as Amazon Prime Air would fit into the high-speed lane between 200 and 400 feet, while drones used for agriculture, bridge inspection, videography, etc. would fall into the low-speed localized lane.

“Amazon believes this segregated airspace model will enable safer overall operations by providing a framework where airspace access is tied to vehicle capability, and by buffering sUAS operations from current aviation operations,” the company wrote.

The low-speed localized traffic lane will also be reserved for drones that aren’t equipped with sophisticated technology such as sense-and-avoid technology. Drones that use navigation, merging and sequencing, communication, collision avoidance, and safe self-separation would fall into the high-speed transit category.

In addition, the company announced it would work with stakeholders and organizations such as the Federal Aviation Administration and NASA to help move the model forward.

“Amazon believes the safest and most efficient model for sUAS with mixed equipage and capabilities is in segregated airspace with a defined structure for operations below 500 feet, alongside federated, highly automated, highly available and secure air navigation services. The public and private sUAS industry should work together to realize this new concept of airspace operations if we are to bring the remarkable innovations of sUAS to bear in a safe and responsible way,” according to the company.

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