For Drone Package Deliveries, the Future Is Now. Sort of.

April 24, 2019

By Jim Roberts

Drone deliveries are happening; just don’t expect to get a Seamless delivery to your downtown apartment any time soon.

In a milestone decision, the Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday certified Wing Aviation, an arm of Google parent Alphabet, to operate as an airline. This makes Wing the first drone delivery company to win U.S. approval to begin commercial operations.

Wing’s drones are capable of hauling loads of up to 3.3 pounds, and so far, the company has only been between testing them in sparsely populated areas of southwestern Virginia, in large part because safety has been one of the major concerns in drone development

“The FAA has taken steps to limit the interaction between drones and humans,” said Dan Gettinger, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College. “That’s what we’re sort of seeing here, testing it out in rural areas and potentially next we might see it in suburban areas, but it’ll be a while before we see drones in anything like an urban area.”

In an interview with Cheddar, Gettinger said that Google has had to meet the same safety standards as air carriers that haul people or cargo. “But the FAA has had to revise its regulatory approach when it comes to drones,” he said. “A couple of years ago, they were predicting tens of thousands of drones in the airspace. And now we see over one million registered with the FAA.”

Now that it has FAA certification, Wing says it is lining up businesses and potential customers in Virginia and will soon begin trial deliveries in Helsinki, Finland

Previously, Wing had conducted extensive tests of its system in Canberra, Australia, flying 70,000 test flights and delivered thousands of packages there.

Although Wing is the first commercial company to win FAA approval, Gettinger said other companies are not far behind. UPS has won approval for testing, he said, and Amazon is developing what it calls Prime Air, a service intended to deliver packages of up to five pounds in 30 seconds or less.