Animation from 'The Jetsons,' via Giphy
The FAA has approved dozens of companies (6.4% of applicants) to fly commercial drones below 200 feet in altitude, but Amazon has been granted extra leeway, test-flying up to 400 feet high over its campus. (Business Insider reports that Amazon has also been testing drone flights outside the US, including over British Columbia.) Amazon's extra flying experience has given it a leading role in helping to define the future of commercial drone logistics in the US.
Gur Kimchi, Vice President of Amazon Prime Air, spoke at a NASA-sponsored conference July 28 to outline Amazon's proposed strata for commercial drone flights. The Washington Post describes airspace below 200 feet as "a local service road" for drones with less refined collision-avoidance technology or with specialized tasks such as videography or surveying. In contrast, 200-400 feet in altitude would be "a highway for drones," primarily autonomous delivery or mapping drones.
According to Manufacturing.net, "The 'best' class of drone, with 4D trajectory planning, an on-vehicle Internet connection, geospatial awareness of all other vehicles and hazards operating at over 200 feet, and other automated systems would be allowed to operate in urban areas. This would also be the only type allowed to fly beyond line of sight, at night, and in inclement weather."
No drones would fly in the next hundred feet up, to prevent contact between drones and traditional aircraft.
Map from Amazon, via 'Washington Post'
Beyond what is being commonly touted in the news as "drone zones," NASA's Silicon Valley team is working with tech giants to design an air-traffic safety system for drones, known as Unmanned Aerial Systems Traffic Management. Kimchi explained that drones in the "high-speed transit" zone must file flight plans and use sensors to avoid accidents with hazards (e.g. other drones, birds, towers, emergency helicopters). According to The Seattle Times, both Amazon and Google support greater visibility through a centralized system of flight plans but oppose instituting a single drone air-traffic operator.
h/t Megan Crouse, Manufacturing.net