In what’s being hailed as a precedent in Canada, officials at Edmonton International Airport have initiated drone deliveries from the facility, the first step in what they hope will become regular, broadening activity.
Edmonton International Airport (EIA) is hosting the trial flights of Drone Delivery Canada (DDC) craft within the usually tightly restricted airspace. As the first runs check out and clear the way for routine activity, DDC Sparrow UAVs will spirit commercial packages for clients Ziing Final Mile and Apple Express, with Air Canada Cargo acting as the official agent. When those first stage of operations hit full stride, seven rotations will be flown each day between the EIA center and a landing and offloading station southeast of the airport.
Launch of the first ever drone delivery flights from an airport in Canada was a long time in coming. The project was initially announced in October of 2019. Since then, the country’s air traffic control company, Nav Canada, has worked out safe and reliable operational details with participating groups. Under those, UAVs drones will autonomously fly a pre-programmed route to the landing facility about a mile away, with employees monitoring activity to step in should irregularities arise.
It’s hoped those relatively short initial hops will broaden into airport drone deliveries to the wider Edmonton area, and even farther-flung communities beyond. Executives at the companies involved have described that widening operation as similar to the hub-and-spoke airline routes that take aircraft to more remote locales that might otherwise not be served.
“Unlocking the opportunities that come with advanced last-mile delivery systems is essential to meeting our customer expectations well into the future,” said Nasser Syed, CEO of Apple Express. “As these shorter flight routes prove successful, we look forward to expanding our transportation network and offering our customers speedy and seamless delivery, especially in the healthcare, technology, aerospace and ecommerce industries where time-critical logistics is a must.”
The first phase of drone deliveries will focus on transport of high-value, time-sensitive, and critical medical products. If the need arises, they may also be deployed to locations where ground vehicle access has been disrupted. As the activity expands, meanwhile, officials hope it will provide a fast, efficient, and zero-carbon alternative to conventional van and truck hauling.
“At EIA our mandate is to support economic growth and diversification in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region,” says Myron Keehn, the airport’s vice president of air service and business development. “Our national leadership in integrating drone technologies at an airport is giving birth to a new sector in drone logistics. The integration of these sustainable technologies is the precursor to the enablement of advanced air mobility, and it lowers barriers for the movement of goods and in the future, people.”
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