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Prime Air layoffs hit dozens on Amazon’s drone delivery team

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Dozens of workers have been hit by Amazon Prime Air layoffs, according to reports first confirmed in The Financial Times.

The retail giant said it would lay off dozens of people working in R&D and manufacturing on the Amazon delivery drone team.

An Amazon spokeswoman said the Prime Air layoffs were “part of a transitional phase for the unit” in a confirmation of the lay-off news to The Financial Times.

“As part of our regular business operations, we are reorganizing one small team within our larger Prime Air organization to allow us to best align with the needs of our customers and the business,” said spokeswoman Kristen Kish, in an emailed statement. “For affected employees, we are working to find roles in the areas where we are hiring that best match their experience and needs.”

It’s a sharp contrast to the news that Jeff Wilke, Amazon’s head of worldwide consumer team, said in Las Vegas last year when he suggested that Amazon drone deliveries were not far away. That event, the re:MARS Conference, was a highly publicized conference exploring lofty, futuristic topics, much like what you would expect from a real-life Stark Expo. In fact, the keynote speech was given by Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr. It’s also where Amazon revealed a new, six-propeller drone with a surprising design. 

A new model for Amazon Prime Air drones, revealed at the re:Mars conference in Las Vegas in 2019. (JORDAN STEAD / Amazon)

And it’s an even sharper contrast to the promise that Jeff Bezos made this exact month back in 2013, when he promised that drones would be making deliveries to your doorstep in just a few years on a “60 Minutes” video that blew Americans’ collective minds.

That said, Amazon Prime Air isn’t a total bust. The drone delivery arm of the retail giant earlier this year scored a big win this summer after receiving broad approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate delivery drones in the form of a Part 135 air carrier certificate. That’s a rare approval held by only two others: Wing (the drone-focused, sister company of Google) and UPS Flight Forward, the drone subsidiary of the multinational package delivery giant.

Amazon’s drone delivery arm has experienced a number of roadblocks, including that it was not selected as one of the companies that would be able to conduct flight tests as part of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Program, which paired governments up with private companies to test types of drone flights that are currently banned in the U.S., including package delivery — while others, like competitor Wing (the sister company of Google) were.


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