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Amazon hires Boeing vet to run Prime Air drone delivery unit

David Carbon joins the e-commerce giant, succeeding Gur Kimchi.

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Amazon re:MARS - Prime Air Drone

One of Amazon's newest Prime Air delivery drone designs, which was shown off at the re:MARS conference last year.

Jordan Stead/Amazon

Amazon has hired a former Boeing executive to run its Prime Air drone delivery business, signaling the retail giant's plans to expand the unit so that it can eventually start flying regular 30-minute shipments to customers' homes.

David Carbon, who left the troubled airline manufacturer amid problems at the factory he ran, joined Amazon this month, according to a company statement. He succeeds Gur Kimchi, who had run Prime Air for the past seven years. Kimchi's LinkedIn profile says he continues to work at Amazon.

"We're very excited David Carbon joined Amazon to lead the next phase of our mission to bring 30 minute delivery by drones to customers," Brad Porter, vice president of robotics at Amazon, said in a statement. "David has over 20 years of experience bringing ground-breaking aerospace innovations to scale safely and reliably and we look forward to his contributions as we scale up our manufacturing and customer delivery operations."

Prime Air and drone deliveries could significantly change the retail world, encouraging even more people to buy online and weakening already struggling brick-and-mortar stores. Amazon has talked up its drone delivery plans since 2013 though the service is still unavailable for customers due to aviation regulations. Carbon's expertise is primarily in assembly and operations, but his many years in aviation could also help on the regulation front too.

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The hiring of a longtime Boeing vet underscores Amazon's confidence in Prime Air though the business may still have a long way to go before it becomes a reality for customers. Aviation and safety regulations in the US currently restrict drone deliveries except in very limited and controlled settings.

Those regulations haven't stopped Amazon from developing its drones in the hopes regulations will eventually change. The company has already piloted 30-minute deliveries in England and tested the service in controlled settings in the US. Meanwhile, UPS is working on drone deliveries within US medical campuses.

Carbon's hiring doesn't come without baggage. He stepped down from Boeing last May following a New York Times investigation that revealed shoddy workmanship and weak oversight at the South Carolina airplane factory he was running. The Times found these problems existed for a decade at the plant and continued after Carbon took over in 2016. 

An Amazon spokesman declined to comment on the Times investigation. Carbon didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.