Back in January of 2017, Pony Express Couriers made what has been hailed as Ireland’s first drone delivery. After obtaining clearance from the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) to make the delivery, the package of medical supplies was successfully delivered to a boat moored 200 meters off the shore in Dun Laoghaire Harbour.
Executives of Pony Express have cautioned that it may be some time before widespread commercial drone delivery services will be active in ireland, as “Important city deliveries such as the majority of our same-day express services could not be trusted to drones yet as the possibility of interception, loss or damage would be too great” said Audrey Browne, operations manager of Pony Express.
This could, however, be beneficial to rural communities. An Post announced in 2018 that they would close 159 rural post offices across 25 counties, due to the retirement of local postmasters. An Post has stated that all of these locations were in places where there were fewer than 500 people living and that 100 of them are in remote areas with fewer than 50 occupied dwellings.
Therefore, there is a great opportunity for drone deliveries in less congested areas. As mentioned by Ms. Browne, “The delivery of low value, urgent items such as takeaway food, especially to remote rural areas is highly likely”.
But apart from practicality, the regulatory hurdle is still significant.
Pony Express Couriers had to apply for permission from the Irish Aviation Authority weeks in advance. Dublin Airport then needed to be informed due to the restricted airspace rules around Dublin city. The flight itself took only two minutes.
While Ireland won’t see drones zipping around the country delivering our takeaways yet, in April this year the Google-linked firm Wing Aviation has been given the US go-ahead for drone deliveries.
Currently, parts of Virginia are being tested for the pilot program. This is after conducting thousands of flights in Australia over the last few years.
Wing aviation has said it will “solicit feedback with the goal of launching a delivery trial later this year”.
The US government has estimated about 110,000 commercial drones are operating in the US currently, which is expected to rise to 450,000 in 2022.
E-commerce giants Amazon, UPS and DHL have conducted tests, and aim to implement pilot programs in the near future.