FAA Allows Drone Meal Deliveries in North Carolina Test Program

Residents of a North Carolina town will be able to get meals delivered by drone as part of a limited test program sanctioned by the Federal Aviation Administration, as it takes baby steps toward broader approval of drone operations.

Flytrex, an Israeli drone software company, is working with services firm Causey Aviation Unmanned of North Carolina to conduct the delivery pilot program, running between a mall and a designated landing zone at a sports recreation complex in Holly Springs, NC through the end of 2020.

NUAIR, based in Syracuse, NY, created the drone’s self-deploying parachute backup system, which will automatically kill the motor and open the chute in the event of any in-flight problem. Having the chute backup system helped convince the FAA to allow a waiver for the drone route to cross a highway.

“It’s a step-by-step process,” said Flytrex CEO Yariv Bash. “The FAA is taking a very mature approach. They want to see a solution for unmanned flight that’s not just five drones in an area but many drones. We have to set up the right system, make sure it allows for growth, and that takes time, changes in regulations, in traffic management and detect-and-avoid systems.”

The project also involves the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the government of Holly Springs and Kite Realty Group Trust, which operates the mall. Residents can order drone delivery of meals from mall restaurants via a Fyltrex app.

While the Holly Springs program involves maintaining visual line of sight (VLOS) drone navigation per FAA regulations, the FAA this month approved the first test of beyond VLOS drone flights by Xcel Energy to inspect power lines in eight states.

Bash is hoping a successful test in Holly Springs will lead to further FAA approvals of flights in the area to backyards, tests with multiple drones and nighttime operation. He noted the current FAA approval isn’t limited to food deliveries, but “that’s where the added value is currently.”

“The idea is to show gradually that it’s very safe, and has no impact on manned aviation,” Bash said. “A few years from now, you’ll be getting your new iPhone in 15 minutes by drone instead of driving to the store. The end goal is delivering almost anything you want as fast as you can order.”

For the past year, Flytrex has been running hundreds of drone deliveries in Reykjavik, Iceland for ecommerce company Aha, from 13 points around the city. The government there allows beyond VLOS drone navigation.

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