Drones are the fastest growing sector in the field of aviation. They are being used for recreation and countless commercial enterprises. Perhaps one of the biggest areas for growth when it comes to drones is the possibility to use them as consumer delivery vehicles. Understandably, there has been a lot of delay in the implementation of a broad drone delivery system. There are many logistical safety concerns that need to be met for drone deliveries to be successful. However, in the wake of the worldwide quarantine measure due to the spread of COVID-19 drone developers, regulators, and operators have seen that this is the time to push the boundaries of what is possible and begin implementing drone deliveries.
Drone delivery trials are already in place in some areas of the United States. Everything from medications and hospital supplies to groceries and takeout meals are being delivered via drones. Many of these drone delivery trials are being conducted throughout the state of North Carolina. Paving the way for drone delivery options was the collaboration between UPS and Matternet using drones to deliver supplies between the WakeMed campuses in Raleigh, NC. Earlier this month, just after Amazon announced that they were entering a practical drone delivery trial, Walmart announced that it was entering into a deal with both Flytrex and Zipline to begin drone delivery trials in Fayetteville, NC. But why are so many of these landmark drone delivery programs being tested in North Carolina?
North Carolina started its tradition of being aviation pioneers back in 1903 when the Wright Brothers chose Kitty Hawk as the location for the first ever heavier than air, controlled aircraft flight. Today, drone companies like the ones mentioned above as well as many others are thriving under the testing conditions found in North Carolina. In support of perpetuating drone growth, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) was selected as one of ten participants in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program (UASIPP). The FAA established this program in 2017 to find the best ways to ensure that drones can be used safely in any airspace.
In 2018, the lead participants of the UASIPP were announced as the City of San Deigo, CA, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Durant, OK, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority, Herndon, VA, Kansas Department of Transportation, Topeka, KS, Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, Memphis, TN, North Dakota Department of Transportation, Bismarck, ND, The City of Reno, NV, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, and of course the North Carolina Department of Transportation, Raleigh, NC. All of these sites have been chosen to contribute specific research and practices in the promotion of drone development. Some of these goals involve using drones for agriculture, scientific research, inspections, emergency, and logistics.
In North Carolina, as stated by the FAA, “The proposal seeks to test localized package delivery within a defined airspace by establishing drone delivery stations in local communities. This approach enables small businesses to utilize this delivery platform for commercial purposes…to operate over human beings, beyond visual line of sight and at night, and seeks to use a variety of technological tools to enable these advanced operations. Tools include ADS-B, detect and avoid technologies, UTM and radar technologies. The data collected from these diverse operations will significantly enhance safe UAS integration into the National Airspace System.” The tests being conducted within the scope of the UASIPP in North Carolina have been leading the way for a viable drone delivery program to be implemented throughout the United States.
The data collected through this program has shown that using drones to deliver a variety of goods can cut logistics costs by almost 50% and save precious minutes. These drone delivery trials do this without jeopardizing any jobs, in fact, drone delivery programs create a network of new job opportunities. Positions for drone operators and technicians, coordinators, and fulfillment personnel all need to be filled. Added to these benefits is the fact that there is something exciting about getting a delivery brought to you by a drone, leading to happy customers. Community acceptance of drones has been a major concern for the FAA. The North Carolina UASIPP has found that communities have generally had a positive reaction to drones coming into their neighborhoods.
Drones are here to stay. The whole world has embraced them for their many uses. The commitment that the FAA has shown towards seeing drones safely used by all parties has set an example of how this technology can progress. As stated on their website, “Drones enable people to go places and do things that might otherwise be dangerous, and they often save money and time. The FAA is dedicated to safely and fully integrating this innovative technology into America’s national airspace.” Having drone testbeds like North Carolina is what makes this possible.