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Former Navy Pilot Jeff Immel '12 Helps Clear Flight Path for Amazon Drone Delivery
Jeff Immel
June 23, 2017

Chances are good that someday you will receive a package via drone, courtesy of Amazon Prime Air and Jeff Immel ’12. Immel, who joined the Seattle-based company as counsel in November 2015, is helping to address legal challenges for drone delivery.

Amazon’s goal is to supplement their existing delivery fleet with drones, which the company hopes will be able to deliver packages weighing up to 5 pounds (between 80 and 90 percent of Amazon orders) in 30 minutes or less, if the customer lives within 10 miles of a warehouse. Amazon Prime Air deliveries were made in the United Kingdom last December. (The first customer received an Amazon Fire TV stick and a bag of popcorn.) Of course, many details still have to be worked out. Customers will need an Amazon-provided landing mat in their yard, which will help the drone determine where to land. And it may take a while before service will be available to, say, apartment buildings. According to the company’s website, deliveries for the ongoing UK private customer trial are only being made during daylight hours and in good weather.

“Really, most of the interesting legal challenges derive from the fact that this is an entirely new concept that doesn’t fit easily within the traditional regulatory framework,” Immel said. “We are working towards operational rules that facilitate the enormous opportunities for innovation that drones present.”

Aviation has been his lifelong passion, and Immel has experience at the controls himself. A graduate of the Naval Academy, where he majored in physics, he went to flight school in Pensacola, Florida, and flew F-14 Tomcats from the deck of the USS Kitty Hawk on nearly 20 combat missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Returning to the U.S., he became a flight instructor in Virginia Beach until leaving the Navy for law school.

At UVA, Immel earned an M.A. in history in addition to his J.D. After graduation, he spent three years as an associate at Jones Day in Pittsburgh, also serving as chair of the aeronautical and space law section of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, before making the cross-country move to Seattle.

“I haven’t received a Prime Air delivery yet,” Immel added, “but you can bet I’ll be one of the first in line when the chance comes.”

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