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FedEx Express drone lands at Irish port, kicking off key month of testing

Pilot program will test viability and speed of drone delivery

FedEx Express has completed the first drone delivery as part of a monthlong test in Ireland, moving a package from Shannon Airport to Foynes Port in under 13 minutes and cutting nearly 40 minutes from a vehicle delivery route. (Photo: Skyports)

The first drone delivery in a monthlong trial in Ireland was completed last week by FedEx Express in collaboration with Future Mobility Campus Ireland Air (FMCI) consortium and drone operator Skyports.

The flight was the first test of beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone delivery in the region and carried a package from Shannon Airport in County Clare to Foynes Port in County Limerick. Foynes Port is the second-largest port operator and largest bulk port company in Ireland.

The drone deliveries were conducted by Skyports on behalf of the FMCI Air consortium, which also includes Avtrain, Shannon Group and FMCI.

“We are always looking for new and innovative ways to deliver the world to our customers’ doorsteps, and I’m delighted that this drone delivery trial is underway and an example of how we, as an industry, continue to explore new technology to help meet our customers’ evolving delivery needs,” Mike Roche, operations managing director for FedEx Express (NYSE: FDX) Ireland, said in a statement.

The delivery kicked off a trial that will see a number of test flights conducted in the region between Shannon Airport and Foynes Port.

The companies anticipate all deliveries will take less than 13 minutes to complete, cutting nearly 40 minutes off the drive time between the two locations.

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“The caliber of the partners involved in this trial ensures its success. To test the incorporation of beyond-visual-line-of-sight drone freight deliveries into global supply chain logistics is the future happening now,” Julie Garland, speaking on behalf of the FMCI Air consortium, said. “The location of this trial from the FMCI base adjacent to Shannon Airport, in controlled airspace, with full air traffic control services demonstrates the integration of manned aircraft operations with simultaneous vertiport drone operations becoming the norm and paving the way for Advanced Air Mobility.”

FMCI Air Consortium was formed in May to bring advanced air mobility to Ireland. The group hopes to launch an operational vertiport at Shannon’s FMCI campus in 2022 to serve as a test bed for companies.

In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration issued its first BVLOS approval in January to American Robotics. Since then, additional companies have received approval.

FedEx rival UPS (NYSE: UPS) has been working to develop drone delivery, including middle-mile flights with Beta Technologies aircraft that can fly up to 250 miles, and smaller drones for last-mile deliveries.

“We think speed and convenience of drone delivery is like no other. If you want a same-day delivery via ground courier today, it’s likely you’re going to be issued a three-hour delivery window. With drones, we’re going to deliver in 30 minutes or less or give consumers an option of a 30-minute delivery window of their choosing,” Kevin Wasik, head of business development for UPS Flight Forward, said during FreightWaves’ DroneWaves virtual conference in April.

FedEx has been active in developing advanced delivery technologies. In October 2019, FedEx collaborated with Wing Aviation, a subsidiary of Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL), to test small package delivery in a pilot program conducted in conjunction with the FAA.

Also in 2019, FedEx unveiled Roxo, the FedEx SameDay Bot, a small autonomous robot designed for last-mile delivery. Testing with Roxo, developed by Deka Research & Development Corp., is ongoing.

In April, FedEx began testing with Nuro R2, an autonomous delivery vehicle in Houston. Nuro R2, which is also making Domino’s Pizza deliveries in the Houston area, is delivering parcels as part of a multiyear, multiphase agreement to pilot autonomous last-mile delivery.

Click for more articles by Brian Straight.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]