You might not realize that drone delivery is already happening. While not widespread, in certain areas of the country, drones are being used to deliver prescriptions and to transport medical samples between labs. Some libraries are also using drones to deliver books. Larger delivery companies like UPS ad Wing are also making deliveries via drone.
Consumers can expect to see more of these small delivery vehicles soon. In December, the Federal Aviation Administration approved the use of commercial drones for deliveries and established rules for more drones to be used. There are currently 1.7 million drones registered and 203,000 certified remote pilots registered to fly them.
Last month, the FAA issued another ruling on drone delivery safety. Writer Ben Ames summarizes this new rule:
The new ruling was published in the Federal Register on Jan. 15, starting a 60-day countdown to become an official ruling in mid-March. The agency noted that the new rules mark “the next step in the FAA’s incremental approach to integrating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace system (NAS).” The process had begun when the FAA announced on December 28 that it had relaxed its requirement for special waivers to allow the use of small UAS drones “at night or over people.”
Logistics drone makers have quickly applauded the change, with Toronto-based Drone Delivery Canada Corp. (DDC) saying Tuesday it “is pleased to express its support for the Federal Aviation Administration’s progressive actions in making amendments to advance the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) for logistics and small package delivery.”
“In January 2021, the FAA added new rules to 14 CFR Part 107 to permit the expansion of routine flights and created four categories of UAS for flights over suburban/urban areas assuming certain, specific criteria are met,” Steve Bogie, DDC’s vice president – Flight Operations & Technology, said in a release. “These new rules greatly improve the regulatory certainty for UAS delivery operations in the United States and represent a significant step forward toward UAS integration into the US airspace.”
Despite these new safety rules, some policymakers remain concerned. How do we keep the air space safe for commercial airlines and lower flying helicopters? And what happens if there’s a collision between drones flying in the air? That certainly poses a risk for those on the ground, especially if the sky fills up with drones.
These are important issues for the Federal Aviation Administration to work out, but it’s also important to educate the public that these concerns are being addressed. And it’s particularly important that the conversations on this issue include consideration of the positive aspects of drone delivery—such as the delivery method’s potential to help vulnerable people who might not be able to leave their homes.
In an FAA-hosted podcast this week, Kevin Wasik, head of business development at UPS Flight Forward discussed this particular benefit with regards to pandemic relief (emphasis mine):
So we actually received word from the FAA that they were interested in evaluating COVID-19 relief efforts. And what we did is we reached out to the world’s largest pharmacy, who we had a partnership with and said, “Hey, what can we do?” And we identified a retirement community in Florida called The Villages. It’s pretty well-known. It’s home to 135,000 seniors. And in partnership with the pharmacy, we set up a drone delivery service. The aircraft is taking off from this pharmacy and is actually flying to a nearby church where it lands. And then the retirement community is adjacent to the church where we use, actually, golf carts today to make the final delivery. What this offers this demographic is an easier, safer, and more convenient way to receive their prescriptions. We’re delivering in 30 minutes or less, and it helps keep this high-risk demographic healthy at home.