Inbound Logistics | January 2024

espite many hurdles past and present , drones are making inroads—or we might say inights—in logistics. Although much of the focus centers around last-mile deliveries, companies are turning their attention to drones to deliver the middle mile as well. Today, drones serve many functions, ranging from monitoring climate

change to carrying out search operations after natural disasters to photography, lming, and delivering goods. Amazon rst revealed a plan for drone deliveries one decade ago, proclaiming drones would revolutionize shipping methods. At the time the news created quite a stir. Flash forward 10 years and drone delivery does occur, but there are still the hurdles to overcome. Before a drone can be own commercially, a user must rst procure two certicates: One is an airworthiness certicate for the aircraft itself and the other is a domestic air carrier license, which is necessary to perform any sort of commercial air operations in the United States. Issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), neither certicate is new or specic to the drone industry, but rather standard procedure for all commercial aircraft.


control of the aircraft and be prepared to take control should anything adverse occur. It’s a practice Drone Express started in 2021. “This approach is not sustainable for extended operations,” Flippo notes, but it has allowed her company to start performing deliveries and seeing how the community responds. It’s akin to being in a testing phase and it’s where most drone start-ups are now. The holy grail is to be able to operate beyond line of sight and trust that the aircraft does what it’s supposed to do without connectivity. PROGRESS TAKES FLIGHT In April 2019, Wing—an initiative of Google’s parent company Alphabet— became the rst drone delivery rm to win FAA approval in the United States. The safety evidence it submitted included data that demonstrated a Wing delivery carried “a lower risk to pedestrians than the same trip made by car.” In August 2023, Wing teamed up with Walmart to deliver items in under 30 minutes to homes located within six miles of stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Meanwhile in May 2023, drone delivery system developer Matternet’s partner Ameriight received FAA approval to operate the Matternet M2 drone for commercial delivery, making it the second U.S. operator to obtain such authorization.

“Requirement of an airworthiness certicate will make drone delivery as safe as manned aviation,” explains Beth Flippo, chief executive ofcer of Drone Express, an aviation and last-mile logistics company located in Dayton, Ohio. Acquiring these certicates, however, takes time because even though drones vary greatly from other aircraft, the FAA makes no concessions. The required domestic air carrier license for drones is the same one required by American Airlines or any other airline. Same goes for the required airworthiness certicate: it’s identical to what a Boeing 747 or any other plane might receive. Not surprisingly, the guidelines are stringent. “The FAA basically tore our drone apart and had us rebuild it in a way that was considered airworthy. It has to be produced exactly the same each time,” says Flippo, whose company has been working with the FAA for ve years trying to get their operating certicates. Despite that, Drone Express is already deploying drones on last-mile deliveries for their customers, which include Kroger, Winsupply, and Papa Johns Pizza. “In order to y now, we have to maintain visual line of sight,” Flippo explains. This means that although their drones y autonomously, someone has to maintain full

January 2024 • Inbound Logistics 177

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