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Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery team has had higher turnover than the rest of the company as launch delays and internal tensions roil the division

  • Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery team saw 20% turnover last year, higher than other parts of the company.
  • Prime Air VP David Carbon said part of the high turnover was due to people growing tired of the launch delays.
  • Prime Air is now aiming for a soft launch in the third quarter of 2022, Insider has learned.

The team in charge of Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery program saw higher attrition than the rest of the company last year, in part due to delays in the official launch that’s now pushed back to 2022, Insider has learned.

That’s according to Prime Air VP David Carbon, who was asked about the team’s high attrition rate during an internal staff meeting in March, according to a transcript of the meeting obtained by Insider. Carbon said the turnover rate was 20% last year, a higher figure than Amazon Robotics’ 16%, and higher than the 14% rate seen across the broader retail operations unit. Turnover is a growing concern at Amazon with employees having to deal with a rigorous performance review system and the company facing an unusually high number of executives leaving the company in the past year.

“20% is not a great number,” Carbon said at the meeting. “We’re hoping to bring ours down. Obviously, we can’t sustain 20% — it’s just gonna kill our folks.”

Carbon’s response came during the meeting’s Q&A session, which quickly turned sour as he started addressing contentious questions submitted by employees, as Insider previously reported. Other questions he answered include the cultural difference between longtime Amazon employees and the newly hired Boeing “expats,” the lack of transparency among some teams, and the repeated launch delays.

The tension at the meeting is the latest sign of upheaval at Prime Air, Amazon’s most ambitious shipping program that’s designed to deliver packages using fully electric drones. Since its first unveiling in 2013, Prime Air has dealt with years of internal conflict and regulatory issues, and it’s still unclear when exactly the drone delivery service will become commercially viable, as Insider previously reported.

During the March meeting, Carbon explained that the employee departures were largely split into two categories. The first group is composed of people who agree with the team’s direction but grew tired of the launch delays, and “don’t have another two years to wait” for the launch, Carbon said. The others, meanwhile, “just flat out don’t agree with the plan,” he said.

Amazon’s spokesperson previously told Insider the attrition rate at Prime Air had improved in recent months.

“Prime Air has new leadership and it’s normal for some team members to find new roles as the program transitions from R&D to an operations focus,” the spokesperson said.

Turnover rate in the division is now down to 16%, according to people directly familiar with the matter. 

While Carbon said during the meeting that Prime Air has made “steady progress despite attrition,” some employees still appeared frustrated by the delays. One employee said many decisions were “burning bridges everywhere” and that they were hurting the team’s “ability to meet the existing schedules.” Another employee asked what would happen if the team failed to meet its internal timeline again.

“Let’s say worst case scenario and we fail to meet our alpha launch by Q3 2022. What happens then? Push the goalpost out another two years?” the employee asked.

Do you work at Amazon? Contact reporter Eugene Kim via the encrypted-messaging apps Signal and Telegram (+1-650-942-3061) or email ([email protected]).

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