Amazon is ploughing millions into drones because it can’t afford not to, says City lawyer

A City of London-based solicitor and expert in the commercial uses of drones has said that it is now clear that Amazon’s well-publicised ambitions to make drones a ubiquitous presence in our skies are much more than a PR stunt.

Rufus Ballaster, Senior Partner at Carter Lemon Camerons LLP and co-author of A Practical Guide to Drone Law, says Amazon needs to plough millions into drone technologies because of the potential consequences of others mastering the technology first.

“Amazon’s marketing, sales and dispatch processes epitomise efficiency, with minimal human input from the point the customer confirms his or her order to the point it is dispatched,” said Rufus Ballaster.

“By contrast, the journey from the dispatch point to the customer’s home or workplace is labour intensive, indirect, slow and risks inefficiency.

“Drones have a clear potential to iron out several costly inefficiencies in the current delivery process, meaning that the e-tailer that is first to make the technology work is due to clean up.

“Amazon cannot afford to be beaten to this point by a competitor if it wishes to remain the dominant player in the direct-marketplace.”

However, he noted that there are a number of issues that need to be resolved before delivery drones become a fixture of everyday life.

“There are of course all sorts of practicalities. Where will the delivery be made? Is that place secure? At whose risk is a delivery made to a garden of a house or roof before the named recipient picks it up? Can these drones fly under Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulations without needing a person in control to have them in direct line of sight and, if not, will the regulations be changed? How close to prohibited zones or events will delivery drones be permitted?” asked Rufus.

“However, the list of interesting potential problems should not undermine a genuine sense of excitement that drones might be about to really take off – literally and figuratively.”

He said a further incentive for Amazon to pursue the development of economically viable drone delivery systems is that it could generate further revenue by attracting an increased number of suppliers to Amazon Marketplace, which suppliers would pay Amazon for delivery by Prime Air.

“That would surely be a good outcome for Amazon and a just reward for committing so much research and development funding to the project to date,” added Rufus Ballaster.

“We have already seen massive changes in how goods and services are paid for and indeed how they are ordered. The logical next step is to improve how they get to the customer.

“I expect that once the drone revolution takes place, we will quickly move into a period of rapid evolution with new versions coming along with greater range, speed and load capacity.”