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One of the Amazon Prime Air prototypes has horizontal and vertical rotors. (Amazon photo)

How much will it cost to get a 30-minute drone delivery from Amazon Prime Air? A newly published interview with Amazon executive Paul Misener suggests that the pricing question and other key issues have yet to be figured out.

In the interview with Yahoo Tech columnist David Pogue, Amazon’s vice president for global public policy provides a detailed run-through of the Seattle-based online retailer’s plan for aerial delivery dominance.

Many of the details have been laid out before. Others appear to remain up in the air:

  • Amazon plans for its drones to weigh no more than 55 pounds, and deliver packages weighing up to 5 pounds. “It turns out that the vast majority of the things we sell at Amazon weigh less than 5 pounds,” Misener says.
  • The deliveries would be made within 30 minutes, and the drones could fly more than 10 miles.
  • Misener couldn’t say whether aerial delivery would cost more or less than ground delivery. “I don’t know that we’ve priced it out yet.”
  • Amazon is working on multiple drone designs that would be customized for different locales – dry and dusty vs. wet and rainy, urban vs suburban.
  • Misener said “we’re thinking through” the options for making deliveries to apartment dwellers, such as designating a drop-off zone that could be monitored during scheduled delivery times.
  • Amazon envisions a regulatory system that would reserve the altitude between 200 and 400 feet for drone operations, plus specified areas beneath 200 feet for take-offs, landings and aerlal photography.
  • What if someone wants to shoot down a delivery drone as it passes overhead? “I suppose they could shoot at trucks, too,” Misener replied. Eventually, seeing delivery drones will become as normal as seeing delivery trucks on the street, he said. (The interview didn’t address the difference between a truck on a public street and a drone over private property.)
  • Misener said Amazon plans to demonstrate the safety of its drone operations to the Federal Aviation Administration in hopes of gaining regulatory approval. But if the FAA doesn’t give the go-ahead for drone delivery, Amazon could still implement the system in other markets around the world. “There’s no reason why the United States must be first,” he said. “We hope it is.”

The FAA is working on regulations to govern the operation of commercial drones like the ones Amazon is developing. One key issue is whether the drones will be allowed to fly beyond an operator’s line of sight. Another is whether they’ll be allowed in the air after dark. Regulators are expected to resolve those questions and issue their rules by late spring.

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