Salt Spring company to be first in Canada to ship parcels by drone

Source: Times Colonist
Author: Carla Wilson

InDro Robotics has received what it says is Canada’s first licence to deliver commercial products via drone.

First deliveries start next week, flying supplies from the medical clinic in Chemainus to the clinic at Penelakut Island.

“This permission until now has only ever been issued to airlines and paves the way for literally much wider range of drone use,” said Philip Reece, chief executive of Salt Spring Island-based InDro Robotics Inc.

“We are eager to roll this out to many communities over the next year starting in Vancouver Island and working with our partners from there to expand quickly.” There’s plenty of scope to grow, he said.

“Each flight only take a matter of minutes, and once a route has been set up it could run all day, it will all depend on demand.”

Reece looks ahead to partnering with other carriers, such as Harbour Air, to make deliveries.

Meredith Moll, Harbour Air spokesperson, welcomes the idea of working with InDro, saying they have been brainstorming possibilities.

For example, if an item was flown to the Sunshine Coast via Harbour Air, “you could then take it that much further with one of the drones to other communities.”

Some things could be delivered by a drone instead of chartering a plane, Moll said, listing items such as passports, wallets, eyeglasses, cellphones and keys to boats.

Reece anticipates the market will expand to include business-to-business deliveries and other services.

“This new licence means we can ship anything up to 10 kilograms (other than people and animals) — important documents, artwork, jewels — basically anything a manned aircraft could.”

Transport Canada approvals allow InDro to initially operate on routes within 25 kilometres but the company is looking ­forward to expanding to 200 kilometres.

Goods are carried in a green container about the size of a shoe box, which is attached via a socket to the drone. A combination lock keeps the box secure until an authorized person opens it.

The company received received approval from the Canadian Transport Agency last week, Reece said.

“Basically it means that we are classed as an air cargo carrier, similar to Air Canada and all of the other airlines.”

The approval follows tests using medical supplies under the auspices of federal agencies.

Operating costs are low because multiple drones can be flown by one person, who does not have to been on site.

InDro’s drones are controlled out of its 12-person Salt Spring Island office. The company employs a total of 22 people.

“We have just opened an office in Ottawa to handle the demand and are actively ­recruiting,” he said.

There’s plenty of scope to grow.

“Each flight only take a matter of minutes, and once a route has been set up it could run all day. It will all depend on demand.”

The maximum permitted weight of a drone, including its 10 kilograms of cargo, is 25 kilograms, Reece said.

A drone will travel 86 kilometres per hour and go up to 76 metres above the ground.

Noise from drones at that height will not bother people on the ground, he said.

Rates will be charged for different routes and kinds of service, such as if something must be delivered immediately. Full tariff rates are still to be developed but it will be similar to the cost of a conventional courier, he said.

Over the past few months InDro Robotics has been ­working with regulators, air operators and the Vancouver Island Health Authority to establish a rapid way of providing COVID-related drone support to a number of communities, hospitals and medical centres in B.C., a news release said.