Virginia Town Becomes Home to Nation’s First Drone Package Delivery Service

Drones have been used to deliver burritos and medical samples in the United States. The deliveries, however, have recently hit a new milestone. Delivery companies are now making commercial deliveries to residential areas. 

For a very long time, start-ups and big companies have been promising customers that they will start delivering packages using drones. Nonetheless, the US has strict rules governing the airspace; and this has been a major hindrance. In the spring of 2019, however, the Federal Aviation Administration gave clearance to first Wings and later a UPS subsidiary. 

In the drone sector, there is always a conversation about how people have to use the approach “walk, crawl, run” to be able to safely fly unmanned aircraft along with helicopters and planes. The head of the drone integration office at the FAA, Jay Merkle, said that now the industry has moved from crawling to walking. According to him, running will come when delivery projects will be widely carried out across the country.

Wing was recently cleared to operate a trial. The company says that it required a whole lot of work to try and abide by all the rules that were set years ago. These rules were written for helicopters and planes so it was not easy. On top of that, the company is still bound by very strict limits. 

Pilot groups are watching the whole process carefully and have formally presented their safety concerns to the FAA. The mayor of Christiansburg has no issue with Wing. However, this is not the case everywhere. Uber recently submitted a proposal to launch a food delivery service using drones in San Diego. Their proposal was met with so much opposition from the locals due to noise concerns.

The Air Line Pilots Association International wrote comments to the FAA complaining that the Wing internal manuals are proprietary and the public cannot assess them. They say that Wing has sought exemptions from some flight rules and this seems to erode established safety levels. 

Some people feel that the drone industry is making very slow progress. Nonetheless, they recognize that meaningful steps have been taken so far. Delivery companies hope that customers will love the speedy delivery done through drones. 

Wing launched this service in Christiansburg. The idea is to let customers make an order using a phone app and have their package delivered in about 10 minutes. 

The drones are made with foam—similar to the one in bike helmets. One pilot can track a maximum of five drones from a control booth. 

The aircraft sets off at a speed of about 65 mph. It can carry a load of up to three pounds and delivers to houses within three and a half miles. 

Wing is not in the delivery business yet and is not charging for deliveries. Its aim is to form partnerships with all sizes of businesses. 

Merkle hopes that operators and regulators in this industry will continue to have a good relationship. 

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