The latest round of new FAA guidelines for drones will allow night flights, as well as closer proximity to people. This is a huge breakthrough for the industry, coinciding with a ramping up of drone trials around the globe by parcel carriers, big box stores, and food service retailers. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated demand for contactless and efficient delivery.
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Last month, The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced new rules for what it calls “unmanned aircraft” that weigh more than 0.55 lbs. Compliance with these rules will allow small commercial drones to fly short distances over people and at night without a waiver for the first time. Small drones will also be permitted to fly over moving vehicles under limited conditions.
Axios notes that a National League of Cities has formed a panel of 25 cities and towns that will advise the federal government on integrating drones into US communities.
Over the last couple of years, UPS and Wing (owned by Google) became the first companies to gain FAA approval to operate a drone airline. Amazon eventually received the same approval certificate last August.
By 2026, more than a million drones globally could be carrying out retail deliveries, up from 20,000 today, according to Gartner.
Walmart announced a series of deals with three drone operators last Autumn, preparing to test how the technology could be used for their own on-demand deliveries. CNBC reports that the list of partners includes Flytrex, Zipline, and DroneUp.
MRP has previously highlighted Flytrex’s work with Walmart, already piloting a drone delivery program in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Last summer, online shoppers who want to order any of the 200 available goods, including food and medical items, from the local Walmart were able now have it delivered straight to their backyard. The partners previously launched a similar service in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
This summer, Walmart customers along the Arkansas and Missouri state line will be able to receive their e-commerce orders via drone delivery as well. The retailer and Zipline International have announced that a pilot program operating out of Walmart’s Pea Ridge, Arkansas, store will begin this summer.
Pea Ridge Mayor Jackie Crabtree told The Joplin Globe that Walmart wants to have the site up and running by mid-year, launching 10 to 15 flights per day. “These are not the little propeller, small drones,” he said, referring to those used by hobbyists and others. “These are 45 pounds and have a 10-foot wingspan.”
In 2020, UPS teamed up with CVS to deliver prescription medicine via drone to residents of The Villages retirement community in Florida, the largest in the US, using Matternet’s M2 drones. Matternet started with 10 to 20 deliveries each day. But if everything goes to plan, the company could facilitate “thousands of deliveries” each month, according to Andreas Raptopoulos, founder and CEO of Matternet. “If we can prove the model with one [store] and we see value there, and the economics are working out, then it can be rolled out to multiple [locations],” he told Engadget.
UPS will continue to expand their operations in The Villages by partnering up with Verizon and its subsidiary, Skyward, to deliver retail products with drones through its Flight Forward division. This project will be even more advanced than their previous venture, examining the use of 5G ultra wideband integrations for drones, which the companies say will be important for growing delivery operations.
The Next Web reports that UPS has operated more than 3,800 drone delivery flights since the creation of UPS Flight Forward.
Similar pilot programs continue to launch around the globe.
Manna Aero, a drone delivery company, gained approval in late October to launch its service in Oranmore, Ireland. Manna’s biggest partner is grocery giant Tesco, but Fortune notes that the drone delivery option has turned out to be a boon for local businesses as well…