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Amazon scales back Prime Air drone delivery project in the UK

The online retailer's engineering project has yet to yield the fleet of delivery drones it has long been promising.

Amazon re:MARS - Prime Air Drone

A design for Amazon's Prime Air delivery drones.

Jordan Stead/Amazon

Amazon has reportedly made significant cuts to its UK drone delivery project, scrapping over 100 jobs within its Prime Air unit as it shutters part of that unit.

People who have worked on the team over the past few years spoke to Wired UK about problems within the unit, including their allegations of managerial issues, some employees drinking at work and others being forced to train their replacements in Costa Rica.

The company said Tuesday that Prime Air will continue to have a presence in the UK, but that it is common for companies to shift projects between test sites as projects progress. Prime Air is currently moving from an R&D phase to an operations phase, and Amazon is still working toward its goal of making deliveries to customers by drone within 30 minutes.

Amazon is among a number of companies, including DHL, UPS and Wing (incubated by Google X), to experiment with delivery drones. The concept first gained mainstream media attention around 2013, but the vision for drone deliveries as an everyday occurrence has yet to materialize.

The company's UK-based Prime Air unit has been running since 2016, taking advantage of the country's regulatory framework, which has allowed it to test the technology. But the company's dream for drone delivery is a global one, and Amazon is increasingly interested in testing in different countries.

The company did not confirm how many jobs it scrapped in the UK but did say that some employees were shifted out of the Prime Air unit.

"We recently made organizational changes in our Prime Air business and were able to find positions for affected employees in other areas where we were hiring," said a company spokeswoman. "We remain committed to our Development Centre in Cambridge, UK, where Amazon has hundreds of talented engineers, research scientists, and technology experts working across a range of innovations. Prime Air continues to have employees in the UK and will keep growing its presence in the region."