- Flytrex has received Federal Aviation Administration approval to expand its drone delivery radius to one nautical mile at its three North Carolina operating stations, the company announced in December.
- The approval expands Flytrex's coverage for five-minute food and retail delivery to roughly 10,000 households in North Carolina. It's a significant expansion from the 2,000 households the delivery service provider could reach as of May 2021.
- The deliveries will be made in cooperation with Causey Aviation Unmanned, which received an FAA waiver in October to operate drones over people and moving vehicles. "This approval from the FAA will allow us to cater to the growing demand for fast and efficient on-demand delivery in suburban America," Flytrex CEO and co-founder Yariv Bash said in a statement.
Increasing volume to drive efficiency is just as important for Flytrex's business as it is for companies offering ground transportation for last-mile deliveries. The FAA approval will bring more potential customers into Flytrex's delivery range, helping the company in its goal to make drone deliveries 10 times more affordable than those completed by a human courier.
"The goal is to increase the volume for each one of our stations," Bash told Supply Chain Dive in 2021. "The more deliveries we make from any one of those locations, the more affordable it becomes for everybody."
Flytrex partnered with El Pollo Loco last year to begin airborne drone delivery, testing the service at 10 locations in Southern California. That partnership, according to El Pollo Loco, was the first between a drone delivery company and QSR brand. While the new FAA approval only impacts Flytrex's operations in North Carolina, it may indicate a willingness by the FAA to tolerate food delivery in other markets.
Since February, the volume of Flytrex orders across its North Carolina operations increased tenfold, the company said in its news release. During that period, Flytrex also announced several milestones.
|May 2021||Expanded its Fayetteville, North Carolina, drone delivery program after getting an FAA permit|
|October 2021||Launched its third drone delivery station in Holly Springs, North Carolina|
|November 2021||Raised a $40-million Series C funding round to expand in the U.S. and advance retail and restaurant partnerships|
Although delivery drones aren't quite crowding the skies as some anticipated a few years ago, interest in the transportation method has jumped from both a business and consumer perspective.
The COVID-19 pandemic sparked higher demand for quick delivery of food, everyday essentials and critical medical shipments like vaccines. Wing, a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet, called 2021 "the year that drone delivery took off" in a December blog post.
"Wing made more than 140,000 deliveries to customers in 2021, a more than 600% increase over 2020," the company said. "Growth of our existing services accelerated through the year, and interest in new services has never been greater."
But regulatory hurdles such as operating beyond visual lines of sight remain, at least in the U.S., which makes expansion difficult for drone delivery companies. Flytrex is working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation, a participant in the FAA's BEYOND program, to help address remaining drone integration challenges.
"The program will focus on operating under established rules rather than waivers, collecting data to develop performance-based standards, collecting and addressing community feedback and understanding the societal and community benefits, and to streamline the approval processes for UAS integration," according to an FAA program overview.