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U.S. Consumer Drone Delivery Programs Triple Overnight

BY Zacc Dukowitz
29 April 2020

We’ve heard a lot recently about how drone delivery could help with measures to fight the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S., with the two primary types of operations discussed being delivery of goods to support social distancing and medical deliveries.

Despite the talk, the reality is that the U.S. only has one consumer drone delivery program (Wing’s program in Christiansburg, VA) and one medical drone delivery program (UPS and Matternet’s program in Raleigh, NC).

At least, that was the reality until this week.

Just a few days ago, Israeli drone delivery company Flytrex announced that it will be launching a drone delivery pilot program in Grand Forks, North Dakota. And the next day, UPS’ Flight Forward announced that it will start delivering medicine by drone from a CVS to The Villages, a huge retirement community in northern Florida.

ups-drone-delivery-florida
Photo credit: UPS

With the launch of these two new drone delivery programs, the U.S. has tripled its consumer drone delivery programs overnight. (Although the UPS program will be delivering medicine, we’re categorizing it as a consumer program since the deliveries are from a business to an individual, not from one medical institution to another).

Flytrex’s North Dakota Drone Delivery Program

Flytrex’s new drone delivery program will take place in Grand Forks, North Dakota in partnership with drone service company EASE Drones, the Northern Plans UAS Test Site (NPUASTS), the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation, and the City of Grand Forks.

Food, medicine, and other goods will be available for drone delivery for Grand Forks residents that opt-in to receive them. Orders for delivery will be available via the Flytrex app.

The items delivered will come from restaurant and retailer partners in the area, including Walmart. Deliveries will be packed at Walmart and taken across the street to a launchpad, where the drone will be loaded.

The drones used in the program will be made by EASE Drones but operate with Flytrex’s navigation system. These drones can carry up to 6.6 pounds.

[Read our interview with Yariv Bash, CEO of Flytrex]

Customer dropoffs will be made directly into people’s backyards, using a tether that hangs down from the delivery drone as it hovers at about 80 feet in the air, as shown in the image below.

flytrex-north-dakota
Photo credit: Flytrex

The drone delivery service will be free during its initial rollout but will eventually cost a small fee.

At first, deliveries will only be available to those houses located within a mile or two of the launchpad. Flytrex hopes to grow the program quickly, and speculates that it will eventually be able to service several thousand households in Grand Forks, a city of 50,000.

We were already doing deliveries to a golf course in Grand Forks. During the time of COVID-19, it’s important to provide contactless delivery.

– Yariv Bash, CEO of Flytrex

Regulatory Framework for Flytrex’s Drone Delivery Program

Based on our research, Flytrex will be conducting its drone deliveries in Grand Forks within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS), which means the company doesn’t need special permission from the FAA for the operation.

[Related reading: Amid Increased Interest in Part 135 for Social Distancing, FAA Says Existing Framework Allows for Most Operations Needed Right Now]

Flight Forward’s Florida Drone Delivery Program

Flight Forward’s first consumer drone delivery program will take place in north Florida and serve those living at a retirement community called The Villages.

The Villages houses more than 135,000 people and is the largest retirement community in the U.S.

cvs-flight-forward-drone-delivery
Photo credit: UPS

Items available for drone delivery will be limited to prescription medicines from a local CVS, located just a half-mile from the delivery destination. At first, a ground vehicle will complete the “last mile” of delivery, bringing the medicine ordered from the landing pad to the resident’s front door.

Deliveries will be made with Matternet’s M2 drone platform.

Our new drone delivery service will help CVS provide safe and efficient deliveries of medicines to this large retirement community, enabling residents to receive medications without leaving their homes. UPS is committed to playing its part in fighting the spread of Coronavirus, and this is another way we can support our healthcare customers and individuals with innovative solutions.

– Scott Price, UPS chief strategy and transformation officer

According to Flight Forward, the drone delivery program at The Villages will begin in early May and could expand to include deliveries from two other CVS pharmacies in the area.

Regulatory Framework for Flight Forward’s Drone Delivery Program

Only Wing and UPS’ Flight Forward currently hold a Part 135 air carrier certificate for drone delivery.

In case you haven’t heard of Part 135, it is now “the only path for small drones to carry the property of another for compensation beyond visual line of sight” (from the FAA’s website). So if you want to be a drone delivery company that flys BVLOS, Part 135 is the only way you can operate.

There are four different types of Part 135 a company can obtain. Flight Forward holds the broadest one, called the ‘Standard Part 135,’ which means it has no limits on the size or scope of its drone delivery operations.

Despite holding these broad permissions Flight Forward has only launched one drone delivery program—its medical delivery program in Raleigh, North Carolina, on the WakeMed hospital campus.

And it looks like Flight Forward may not be using its Part 135 in its new delivery program for The Villages.

According to UPS’ recent press release about the Florida program, “the new service . . . begins in early May under the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107 rules, with authority to operate through the pandemic and explore ongoing needs as they arise after that period.”

According to this statement, it looks like deliveries will be made within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS), which would not require any special permissions from the FAA.

Update on Wing’s Drone Delivery Program in Christiansburg, VA

If we were wondering whether people would actually take advantage of drone delivery under quarantine, we need look no further than Wing’s existing drone delivery program in Virginia.

Since self-quarantining began about six weeks ago, Wing’s drone delivery program in Christiansburg has seen a huge surge in use.

Over the last two weeks, Wing’s program has doubled the number of drone deliveries made in the U.S., making a record 1,000 deliveries.

wing-drone-delivery
Image credit: Wing

Regulatory Framework for Wing’s Drone Delivery Program

Wing’s drone delivery program in Virginia operates under the company’s Single Pilot Part 135.

Learn more about the four types of Part 135 certification here.

Excited about these two new drone delivery programs? Share your thoughts in this thread on the UAV Coach community forum.

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