The convenience and cost savings associated with automated drone delivery of commodities is attractive to many locally-based operations. However, questions about drone safety or FAA regulations restricting airspace have slowly reduced the enthusiasm for drone supply chain deliveries.
But are these concerns taking a dramatic shift? According to some recently published press releases, it appears as if both Amazon and an Israeli drone manufacturing company are courting the Federal Aviation Administration to lift some restrictions to test drone-operated deliveries.
So, today, let’s review some headlines that have stimulated the drone supply chain discussion recently!
New FAA Permit Granted in North Carolina
A news article published in mid-August 2019 indicated that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted permission to Israeli drone-manufacturer Flytrex along with a North Carolina-based drone services firm - Causey Aviation Unmanned to test a drone-operated delivery service for food products. The program is a ‘pilot’ that would allow drones to fly a dedicated route from one fixed destination (the distribution center) to outlining, unpopulated areas and to a recreational area. While the dedicated route does not travel over significant civilian populations, it does cross a major highway.
The primary reason why the FAA has agreed to this test program is the success of Flytrex. In fact, the company is a bit of an inspiration having found a ton of success in Iceland.
Essentially, this program is a dedicated route or what they call “milk runs”, that are similar in many ways to current testing of autonomous driving vehicles (such as the dedicated Texas to Arizona delivery route being tested by the USPS).
A fixed-route delivery of autonomous vehicles helps to reduce unpredictable variables. This is a major reason why the North Carolina fixed flight plan is being tested in this method. The program has attracted the attention of Uber Eats, who are concurrently considering a food-delivery service using drone technology.
A drone operation company Alphabet’s Wing Aviation received an FAA Air Carrier Certification that permits commercial drone-based deliveries. They expect package delivery operations starting later in 2019a. Companies like Amazon.com and UPS have applied for similar permissions.
What About Amazon?
Since its introduction, it was evident that Amazon would have the resources to make drone deliveries a practical option.
However, the FAA has been less than excited about granting access to Amazon for these programs. However, they have recently applied for a waiver with the FAA. This waiver would permit the giant e-commerce retailer to begin drone deliveries in the US.
Their program operates under Amazon’s Prime Air Service. And while this service makes use of drones that have a five-pound delivery capability, deliveries would only be completed to customers within a 30-minute flight path.
The primary reason for Amazon’s application for the waiver is, according to Amazon, to test the feasibility of the program and collect valuable data that can be shared to other retailers or delivery services.
While the concept of automated drone deliveries has merit, public safety is the FAA's primary concerns. That said, the North Carolina pilot program indicates future growth. And with these testing phases showing consistent improvements, a completely autonomous drone delivery service might be practical sooner than expected.