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FedEx to Test Autonomous Drone Cargo Delivery

FedEx Express is teaming up with California-based Elroy Air, which is building the first end-to-end autonomous vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aerial cargo system, for what it said is a first-of-its-kind agreement in the U.S. to develop plans to test Elroy Air’s Chaparral autonomous air cargo system.

FedEx Express said it will utilize the air cargo drone in its middle-mile logistics operations, moving shipments between sortation locations. This is the latest initiative from FedEx in its effort to explore and adopt emerging technologies across its networks.

The company said the exponential growth of e-commerce has accelerated the demand for reliable, efficient transportation and logistics solutions throughout all stages of the supply chain. FedEx believes that continued innovation and automation will improve safety, efficiency, and productivity for the company’s 600,000 team members.

“FedEx was built on innovation, and we are always looking toward new technologies to help enhance the logistics industry through improved safety, efficiency and customer service,” said Joe Stephens, senior vice president of global planning, engineering and technology at FedEx Express. “We look forward to continued testing and learning throughout our collaboration with Elroy Air.”

Elroy Air announced its signature Chaparral autonomous aircraft in January. The Chaparral aircraft is an eVTOL aerial cargo system that can autonomously pick up 300-to-500 pounds of cargo and deliver it by air up to 300 miles. The Chaparral is capable of longer-range flights without the need for additional infrastructure, such as airports or charging stations.

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“We are proud to work with FedEx to build the next generation of express logistics,” said Kofi Asante, Elroy Air’s vice president of business development and strategy. “When you’re not limited by challenging infrastructure, traffic or airports, logistics can reach more people, faster than ever before. We look forward to working together to create a new future for how we get goods to people around the world.”

FedEx and Elroy Air have been working together since January 2020 and will continue their collaboration to pursue certifications and begin flight testing in 2023.

Use of drone aircraft is set to take off for commercial use. Digital freight forwarder Flexport Inc. was one of several firms named in a February announcement by autonomous aircraft maker Natilus Inc. that confirmed it has more than $6 billion in pre-orders. The purchase commitments total over 440 aircraft for Volatus Aerospace, Astral Aviation, Aurora International, Dymond and Flexport, among other companies.

Amazon is also turning to unmanned drones to expedite delivery. In 2020, it received clearance from the FAA to move forward with the initiative. Walmart is also exploring moving goods by drone in a bid to speed up delivery times.