Edmonton International Airport to become first hub for drone deliveries

Flying robots called Sparrows will soon be getting their own piece of the runway at the Edmonton International Airport.

'We see that as a really great fit for EIA'

The Sparrow drone is capable flying a few kilometres at a time and can carry a payload of 4.5 kilograms. (Drone Delivery Canada)

Flying robots called Sparrows will soon be getting their own piece of the runway at the Edmonton International Airport.

The airport authority said it has entered into a new commercial agreement with Drone Delivery Canada that is expected to be the world's first regularly scheduled drone delivery service from an airport.

The Sparrow is the company's smallest drone model. Capable of flying a few kilometres at a time, it can carry a payload of 4.5 kilograms.

Fleets of unmanned aircraft are expected to be cleared for takeoff by early next year, eventually filling the sky as they carry goods to customers on the Prairies and across the north.

The company fleet also includes the Falcon, which can carry 22 kilograms of cargo and fly 60 kilometres. and the Condor, which can carry 181 kilograms of payload and travel 200 kilometres.

Five-year agreement

"Their aim is to use these drones for package delivery and we see that as a really great fit for EIA," said Traci Bednard, a spokesperson for Edmonton International Airport.

"We have the largest land mass in Canada as an airport. So it would make sense that we could use the airport for drone delivery services."

EIA inked a deal Tuesday with Drone Delivery Canada to make the airport into a hub for drone cargo deliveries in Western and Northern Canada.

The company also worked with Air Canada as its sales agent as part of the agreement. Villeneuve Airport, which is operated by the Edmonton Regional Airports Authority, will also be working with the company.

Under the five-year agreement, the company will use Edmonton's airspace to chart new delivery routes. 

As routes are identified and approved by regulatory authorities, drone takeoff and landing zones will be developed at the airport so a fleet of Sparrow drones can be deployed to customers.

Flights will be remotely operated and monitored by Drone Delivery Canada from its new commercial operations centre in Vaughan, Ont. The operations centre is a 16,000-square-foot facility capable of managing 1,500 drones.

The company is targeting numerous sectors including mining, agriculture, forestry and construction for the service. Its drones are expected to carry payloads ranging from mining equipment to medical supplies. 

"We are pleased to be working with a leader like EIA to further our expertise in operating at an airport in controlled airspace and this relationship will bring tremendous logistics benefits to the region," said Drone Delivery Canada president Michael Zahra.

The airport is no stranger to drones. A drone known as a Remote Piloted Aircraft System has been incorporated into the airport's safety inspections — collecting photos and data on runways, taxiways and aircraft handling aprons.

Drones are also being used to deter birds from flight paths.  An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) called a robird, painted to look like a female falcon, regularly patrols the skies around Edmonton International Airport.

"We're really proud to work with these drone companies in using these drones safely and commercially at an airport," Bednard said. 

"It is a unique opportunity for them."


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