Drone delivery project takes off this fall at Edmonton International Airport
Unmanned aircraft won't fly over runways as they make deliveries to nearby Nisku
The skies above Edmonton International Airport this fall will be dotted with tiny specks.
Drones roughly the size of an acoustic guitar will carry packages from the airport to businesses in nearby Nisku as part of a new deal signed July 8 between EIA and Drone Delivery Canada, a publicly-traded company based in Ontario.
"We'll be setting up infrastructure over the next few weeks at the airport," Drone Delivery Canada CEO Michael Zahra told CBC's Edmonton AM on Thursday.
"It's a route with the origin at the airport and the destination yet to be determined," Zahra said.
"There's a couple of destinations we're considering. We'll be in Nisku and we'll be using our Sparrow drone to fly cargo back and forth between the origin and destination."
Nisku, Alta., is a business and industrial park just east of the airport, across the Queen Elizabeth II Highway.
Transport Canada says drone pilots must get air traffic control approval for operations in controlled airspace such as airports, and maintain communications with the traffic control authority.
Zahra said the company has flown drones with airports in the past both in Canada and the United States and is familiar with rules and regulations.
"We won't be traversing the runways … but we have the ability to integrate into active airspace safely and coordinate with the airport and air traffic control and make sure everything is safe and disciplined," he said.
The Sparrow drones have a capacity of carrying 4.5 kilograms of cargo and a range of about 30 kilometres, although Zahra said for the EIA project they will probably travel only a few kilometres.
The drones will be monitored from Drone Delivery Canada's operations control centre in Toronto.
This isn't the first time drones have been introduced at the Edmonton airport.
Myron Keehn, EIA vice-president, air service and business development, said drones have been used to chase away birds and to conduct inspections of runways, pavement and lights.
"We do hundreds and hundreds of drone missions a year at our airport," Keehn said.
The airport has partnered with logistics companies Apple Express Courier and Ziing Final Mile to help deploy the drones.
Zahra said using drones would be more efficient in terms of time and limiting human contact.
"If you've got a medical campus or something like that and you want to prevent cross-contamination, but you want to keep the supply chain open, drones are perfect for that."