After it received regulatory approval from the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), drone delivery company Wing Aviation has launched its first public drone delivery service in the country. The start of the unmanned aerial vehicles was accompanied by complaints from residents in the northern suburb of Bonython near the Australian capital Canberra. Wing is owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet.
After examining Wing's safety record and operational plans, CASA attached several conditions to the approval. The drones will only be allowed to fly during the day and not before 08:00 AEST at the weekend. They also will not be allowed to fly over crowds or main roads.
Squealing vacuum cleaner
The first drone service will deliver takeaway food, coffee and medicines to about 100 homes in Bonython. The company has been testing its drones in Australia since 2014 but many residents had complained about the noise and even started a Bonython Against Drones campaign claiming the devices could be heard from "a long way off, both coming and leaving.“
"When they do a delivery drop they hover over the site and it sounds like an extremely loud, squealing vacuum cleaner," the group said on its website.
Operations will be expanded
Wing’s drones deliver small packages which are lowered into the customer’s garden on a length of string. Apart from Bonython, around 100 homes in the suburbs of Crace, Palmerston, and Franklin will initially have access to the service, but in the coming months the company plans to expand it to homes in Harrison and Gungahlin as well.
Wing launched in 2012 with the goal of radically improving delivery. On its website it states: “We believed that if people could access items when and where they need them, they could live a higher quality of life, with more choice and freedom.“
Initially, the company started building an aircraft to deliver defibrillators to heart attack victims, with the hope that lives could be saved if the devices arrived faster by air. "However, we quickly learned that drone technology would first need to be proven exceedingly reliable and dependable through years of development and testing. We also believed it would be important to deliver a wider range of benefits to communities, such as reduced traffic congestion and a cleaner environment.”
For the past 18 months, Wing has been trialling in the customer experience of drone delivery with residents in ACT and New South Wales, partnering with businesses to provide food and drinks, over-the-counter chemist items, and locally-made coffee and chocolate.
Wing Aviation is expected to launch drone services in the U.S.
Meanwhile, a Reuters report quoted an FAA official as saying that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is expected to award the first licence to operate a drone airline in the U.S. next month. The agency decided last year that large-scale commercial package delivery operations by drones would need to meet the same safety and economic certification standards as other licensed U.S. airlines.
Although the name of the drone airline has not been named, the only application for a drone carrier so far has come from Wing Aviation.
FAA documents associated with the application said Wing Aviation was proposing to conduct package deliveries using small fixed-wing drones in a rural area of the U.S. An FAA official noted that Wing Aviation had already conducted successful trials of its delivery service in Virginia.
Nol van Fenema