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Package Delivery by Drone, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

The next big step in the use of drones may be package delivery.  Could the future for Amazon and other retailers eventually include deliveries by unmanned aerial drones?  Amazon has uses drones with a range of 10 miles and a payload of under five pounds (appropriate for about 90% of Amazon’s deliveries).  The company began drone deliveries in mid-2022 in Lockeford, California, a rural community about 100 miles northeast of San Francisco.  Alphabet, Inc. (parent company of Google) has a subsidiary named Wing that began drone delivery in 2022 in the Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas area.  Wing also supplies drones for Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. and Walmart deliveries in the Dallas area.  Meanwhile, Walmart launched same-day drone delivery in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas Utah and Virginia in May 2022.  In addition, the U.S. Postal Service and Airbus SE have developed and tested units for deliveries.  U.S. drone delivery is dependent upon cost, technologies, safety concerns, consumer acceptance and shifts in FAA rules regarding unmanned flight.
In January 2021, the FAA approved the first fully automated commercial drone flights.  The approval does have limits, which include drone operation only in rural areas at altitudes of under 400 feet.  In late 2020, the FAA established requirements for remote identification of drones and new safeguards for flights across overpopulated areas and at night.
China’s number two ecommerce company is using drones to deliver packages to remote rural villages.  The firm has drones that can fly up to 62 mph carrying packages of up to 66 pounds. is currently testing heavy-duty drones that can carry up to one ton or more and is investing $150 million with the help of the Shaanxi province government.  Zipline (, a startup headed by former Google, SpaceX, Boeing and NASA veterans, delivers medical supplies by drone to very remote areas in Rwanda.  Drone delivery is also a reality in Reykjavik, Iceland after food delivery company Aha signed a deal with Flytrex ( of Israel.  The Aha drone weighs 34 pounds (including the drone and the Flytrex attachment) and has a payload of 5.5 pounds.
Delivery drones require more complex designs than those used to gather video footage or sense changes in temperature or pressure.  For example, Alphabet’s Wing delivery drones have wings capable of switching to upright mode in order to hover while recipients take deliveries.  Another Wing model has fixed wings combined with vertical-axis rotors similar to those used on quadcopters.  Wing was cleared by the FAA in April 2019 for its first commercial drone delivery.
In June 2019, Uber Elevate (the aerial arm of the global ride-sharing service) tested food delivery by drone in San Diego, lifting a McDonald’s order 26 feet above the restaurant, hovering and then returning to the ground due to high winds.  Uber Elevate initially planned to fly drones to designated safe landing zones where waiting drivers would handle pick-up and delivery.  Not only is safety an issue, but there is a noise pollution concern due to whirring rotors.  The company reported that a 1.5-mile trip via car averages 21 minutes, while the same trip by drone averages approximately seven minutes.  Uber Elevate was acquired by Joby Aviation in December 2020.
UPS’ Flight Forward drone subsidiary received Part 135 Standard certification from the FAA in October 2019.  The firm now delivers medical supplies via drones to hospital campuses in North Carolina, Utah and elsewhere in an agreement with CVS Corporation.  Drones are well suited to medical supply delivery, due to the fact that items such as blood and medical specimens tend to be light and of uniform size and require fast turnaround times.  In addition, UPS is planning a drone logistics project with Kaiser Permanente for drone delivery between buildings in the company’s 39-hospital network.

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