- Alphabet subsidiary Wing Aviation has partnered with FedEx and Walgreens to begin commercial drone deliveries of select items to customers in Christiansburg, Virginia, next month (an exact date has yet to be released), according to a blog post.
- The drones will primarily carry food, healthcare, wellness-related and convenience products, according to FedEx. Consumers can opt-in to a wait list to receive packages by drone, but FedEx did not specify if there is an extra cost to do so.
- The pilot serves as a drone delivery test-case for FedEx and Walgreens. Vish Sankaran, chief innovation officer at Walgreens Boots Alliance, said in a statement the pilot puts Walgreens "in a unique position to capitalize on the convenience of drone delivery if and when it should expand, with approximately 78 percent of the U.S. population living within five miles of a Walgreens store."
"Wing has spent the last seven years developing a delivery drone and navigation system for this purpose," Wing CEO James Ryan Burgess said in a statement. "By delivering small packages directly to homes through the air in minutes, and making a wide range of medicine, food and other products available to customers, we will demonstrate what we expect safer, faster, cleaner local delivery to look like in the future."
According to Wing's website, its drones can cover six miles in roughly six minutes, lowering deliveries straight to a customer's door step.
Wing was the first drone company in the U.S. to get the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Part-135 certification, allowing it to run paid customer deliveries and to fly drones at night, outside the line of sight of an operator and without certain other flight path restrictions. Currently, the company has been testing its drone delivery capabilities in other parts of the country and is launching new delivery programs in Finland and Queensland, Australia.
To date, Wing's pilots and the Christiansburg launch are conducted through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program (IPP). The IPP launched in 2017 to not only support private innovation in the drone delivery industry, but to help the FAA determine the best ways to develop new aviation regulations and safety protocols for UAVs as the industry continues to expand.
UPS is also an IPP participant and is waiting for the FAA's decision as to whether it will be granted a Part-135 certification to begin commercial drone operations. The carrier recently announced it will launch a new delivery subsidiary, Flight Forward Inc. to scale drone operations nationwide.
Amazon also applied last month for a waiver with the FAA that would allow it to begin drone deliveries.
Currently, UPS runs deliveries of medical supplies across a hospital system in Raleigh, North Carolina, and as part of a disaster relief pilot earlier this year in the Bahamas. For now, UPS operates under the FAA's Part 107 certification, however, meaning all of its deliveries are noncommercial, small-scale, within the line of sight of an operator and comply with more FAA restrictions from which Wing is currently exempt.