The remotely piloted vehicles will take packages of up to 4.54 kilograms from the airport to a landing zone in Nisku that is yet to be decided on by the couriers using the service: Apple Express and Ziing Final Mile.
Michael Zahra, CEO of DDC, told Taproot that while the initial agreement will see the delivery drones flying just one route, the service can be scaled up and applied to other delivery services in the future.
Myron Keehn, EIA's vice-president of air service and business development, also sees potential to broaden the service. He told Taproot that drones and other unmanned vehicles are going to be a large part of the airport's operations going forward, as they become more popular in supply chains.
"If you fast forward to the future 10 years from now, you will have autonomous systems delivering packages by road, by air, and by individual robots within buildings," he predicted.
One of the largest benefits of using drones, which are electrically powered, is that they can mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions associated with last-mile delivery — to the customer's business or home — which is typically done by trucks.
"It has the largest effect on the environment," Keehn said. "Because it's individual — you're taking one package at a time."
Keehn said that last mile delivery is also the most important step for getting packages to customers on time, and a drone network will help with efficiency.
The airport has been implementing drones in other areas of its operations over the past few years. In 2019, EIA began using specialized drones to conduct runway safety inspections and partnered with Pegasus Imagery to help deploy drones that help find and track wildfires around the province. In 2017, the airport began using robotic falcons to chase birds out of the way of air traffic.
The airport also partnered with DDC in 2019 to provide cargo delivery services within airport grounds. However, this will be the first time drones will transport packages out of the airport, and the first drone delivery service out of any large airport in Canada, Keehn said.
He said the next steps to getting drone deliveries up and running are to take care of the added safety issues related to flying unmanned vehicles over actively used civilian areas, and to build the necessary infrastructure such as takeoff and landing pads. He expects the delivery service will be operational this fall.
"Drones are the future, we are just the first in Canada to jump on it," he said.