Google parent Alphabet just beat Amazon to the punch in an incredibly important business: Drone deliveries.
Wing, an Alphabet subsidiary focused on commercial drones, has received approval from the FAA to operate as an airline, a certification that will allow it to move ahead with plans to experiment with drone deliveries in the US, a service it has already launched in parts of Australia (the suburbs around North Canberra) to mixed reviews.
However, Wing will need to move quickly if it wants to stay ahead of the competition, because the regulatory win has cleared the way for its competitors to seek approvals of their own.
- GOOGLE SPINOFF IS FIRST TO GET FAA APPROVAL TO DELIVER BY DRONE
- ALPHABET'S WING BECOMES FIRST DRONE FIRM APPROVED AS AN AIRLINE
- WING’S NEW STATUS CLEARS WAY FOR OTHERS SEEKING DRONE COMMERCE
- WING TO START SIGNING UP RURAL VIRGINIA CUSTOMERS THIS SUMMER
Wing is wasting no time in bringing its delivery service to market, and will begin making deliveries of small items in two rural Virginia communities this summer, per BBG.
"It’s an exciting moment for us to have earned the FAA’s approval to actually run a business with our technology," Wing Chief Executive Officer James Ryan Burgess told BBG. He called the approval "pivotal" both for his company and the drone industry in general.
The company is already testing its delivery business in Europe, and is planning to expand drone deliveries in Australia through partnerships with local businesses.
Dozens of companies have received waivers from the FAA to begin testing their drones. But Wing is the first to win the coveted approval after completing an 'onerous' safety review process.
While scores of companies working in test programs have gotten FAA waivers to perform demonstration flights or to make deliveries over short distances, there has never been a drone company approved under the regulations designed to ensure safety at traditional charter airlines or smaller air-cargo haulers.
It required Wing to create extensive manuals, training routines and a safety hierarchy -- just as any air carrier must do.
Companies receiving permission must also be majority owned by U.S. citizens under long-standing restrictions imposed by the DOT.
Some drone companies have complained that the process was too onerous. Many of the requirements that made sense for a charter airline - like flight attendants and seat belts for the crew - didn’t apply to them.
Burgess said that the process of applying to the FAA took months and was "very rigorous and very thorough."
After more than a year of testing, we reported earlier this month that the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority had granted Wing licenses to operate commercial drones after the agency reviewed all flight records and operational plans. They did make one request: After complaints from residents about the noise made by the drones, and threats to shoot them out of the sky, Australian policymakers asked Wing to see if it could modify its drones to turn down the decibal level of its drones.
"When they do a delivery drop they hover over the site and it sounds like an extremely loud, squealing vacuum cleaner," Bonython Against Drones said on its website. "The feedback we have received during the trials has been valuable, helping us to refine our operations to better meet the needs and expectations of the communities in which we operate."
The approval in the US means it's only a matter of time before Amazon cuts out the middle men and starts delivering packages directly by drone, a service that has been in development for years.
It also means the dream of having a drone deliver your morning coffee is moving closer to becoming a reality.
Meanwhile, the question of just how Google's drones will defend themselves from random surface-to-air attacks and anti-aircraft artillery, remains to be answered.