The good news is that America’s first Federal Aviation Administration-approved drone delivery service will be taking place in the New River Valley.
The bad news is that it’s the New River Valley that lies across the across the border, encompassing Blacksburg, Virginia.
If the whole things sounds kind of “Hokie” to you, you’re not alone. Wing Aviation, a unit of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is debuting drone home delivery in North America in cooperation with Virginia Tech and the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership.
Last week’s decision by the FAA to grant air carrier certification to Wing means it can begin offering home delivery of food, over-the-counter medicines and other small items as soon as practicable, probably within a few weeks. Then, Wing’s fleet of 12-rotor/propellor remote-controlled aircraft can begin delivering payloads of up to 3 pounds each to suburban residents of Blacksburg and nearby Christiansburg.
The drones weigh about 11 pounds each, have a wingspan of about 3 feet, and can fly at nearly 80 miles per hour up to 400 feet off the ground, using onboard cameras to extend flight limits beyond their operators’ line of sight. Pilots will each be allowed to fly up to five drones simultaneously, according to one report. So, what could possibly go wrong?
Not much, according to a four-year test in Australia by Wing Aviation involving more than 3,000 deliveries made by the same drones that will be used in Blacksburg. Earlier this month, Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority authorized Wing to launch drone delivery service to three suburbs of the Land Down Under’s capital city, Canberra. Retailers signing up for the service so far have included espresso and gelato stands, a Mexican restaurant and a pastry shop.
In Blacksburg, it seems obvious that a company named Wings should deliver buffalo wings to hungry Hokies, along with enough pizza and canned drinks to round out the drones’ 3.3-pound payloads. During an experimental period back in 2016, the company airlifted burritos from a Blacksburg Chipotle to Virginia Tech students, but failed to come to an agreement with Starbucks over the delivery of their caffeinated products due to conflicts over the use of customer data, according to Forbes.
While the applications of drone delivery seem limitless, there are some items that should not be delivered to people by remote controlled aircraft. They include arrest warrants, death notices and repossession papers.
While one shouldn’t shoot the messenger, clipping its wings may be understandable.