Wing, Google's drone delivery unit, received approval to use drones to deliver packages by the Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday (April 24).
The New York Times, citing the FAA, reported Wing was given the nod to deliver packages commercially. The company has been testing delivery drones in Canberra, Australia where it was able to make greater than 3,000 drone deliveries. The moves were aimed at showing off how safe the drones were and to get the approval of the FAA, reported The New York Times.
With the FAA approval Wing will be able to make drone deliveries in an area of southwest Virginia. The report noted the exact locations are still up in the air, but the drones will only be able to operate during the day when the weather is clear. The drones won’t be able to fly above 400 feet, with one pilot able to operate up to five drones. The paper noted it’s not clear if Wing will face a cap in terms of the number of drones it can have in the air at one time. When Wing makes a delivery it lowers the package from about twenty feet using a hook. Customers are able to select where they want it delivered via an app.
Wing is part of a pilot program with the FAA to commercialize drone delivery. “From our perspective, it’s more treating drones like manned aviation,” said Mark Blanks, director of the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, one of the organizations involved in the pilot program. “That accomplishment is huge, and I think it’s a preview of the future of where this is headed.”
In an interview with The New York Times, Jonathan Bass, a spokesman for Wing, said deliveries in Virginia should kick off later in 2019. It’s still being decided what the drones will deliver, but it plans on focusing on goods from local businesses. Wing is getting input from community leaders during the next few months to determine the best way to roll out the program. Bass told the NYT that in testing Canberra, the most common item delivered was coffee — although drones also delivered ice cream, meals, medicine, and even mascara. “There’s lots of interesting uses, some of which we wouldn’t have anticipated,” Bass said, noting using drones for delivery was safer than getting in a car to pick something up — not to mention it’s better for the environment and can be faster.