Drones flying cargo from Edmonton airport

by Krystyna Shchedrina

Drone Delivery Canada (DDC) has begun operating drone flights carrying cargo from Edmonton International Airport (EIA) for its customers Ziing Final Mile and Apple Express. 

The 12-month project will enable defined-route deliveries from EIA to an off-airport property with DDC’s Sparrow drone, and its DroneSpot takeoff and landing zones and FLYTE software. The drones will transport cargo for the two couriers located in the industrial park in Leduc County, Alberta. 

This is the first time DDC will be testing its drone delivery from and to the airport location in Canada. EIA’s less restrictive zoning allows testing of the drones’ potential, which would not be possible in other jurisdictions, said Chris Higham, president and CEO of Ziing. 

Short trips

Despite the Sparrow drone having a 30-kilometre range capacity, the cargo will only have to travel 2.8 kilometres to get from EIA to the drop-off spot at Pat Wilson Memorial Park in Nisku and vice-versa.   

Myron Keehn, vice-president of air service, business development, government relations and ESG at EIA, said that for safety reasons, the drone is not permitted to fly over populated areas at this time.  

“Its flight path changes depending on activity and time of day and year. For example, there is a golf course within the Airport City Sustainability Campus. When it is open to the public, the drone flies around the golf course and crosses the Queen Elizabeth II Highway by shadowing the existing road network in the area.” 

Once delivered, the goods are picked up by Ziing and Apple Express couriers and delivered to customers. Higham said that because the drone can carry only about 4.5 kilograms, the payload can be collected from the landing point not only by trucks but also by smaller vehicles.  

Variety of cargo

While, according to Keehn, cargo specifics are the responsibility of the courier companies using the service, Higham added the type of cargo is not limited and can include all kinds of commodities.  

“We’re not going to start with moving food, but we have clients who will use it in the industrial supply space,” said Higham, pointing out that some of the deliveries might include goods like coffee and other non-perishable products.  

For now, the drones operate from Monday to Friday, and both couriers have a specific delivery flight schedule every day. However, Higham said if there are free time slots with no deliveries scheduled for one of the couriers, the companies collaborate and provide the flight to another partner so that the customers can receive the goods as soon as possible.  

Year-long trial

This year-long trial aims to prove the viability of the technology and service and grow understanding of the Sparrow drone with the help of Nav Canada, a regulatory partner, said Keehn.  

Higham said that currently, the most important task is to test the capabilities of the Sparrow drone so that in the future, it can be used to deliver goods to remote areas like some locations in the Indigenous communities or help the agriculture business, flying over less densely populated areas like farms or other types of widespread areas. 

“This is the first step towards growing the service to fly deliveries to other locations eventually. As an airport, we believe there is a strong future ahead for this technology. However, safety must come first,” said Keehn.

While the drones operate in Alberta’s EIA and Nisku areas, the flights will be remotely monitored by DDC’s Operational Control Centre in Vaughan, Ontario.