Delivery Drones Are Gaining a Clearer Commercial Flight Path

Recent federal approvals have retailers ramping up tests, but hurdles to consumer acceptance remain

Cassidy Shorland, a council member in Logan, Australia, wanted a refreshing treat on a hot day recently, but didn’t want to get in his car and leave the office. So Shorland opened a DoorDash delivery app, clicked on a mango-flavored juice from a nearby smoothie chain, then walked outside as a big white-and-yellow drone came into view and lowered a tethered box holding his juice.

Shorland, 47, is one of the customers in the small municipality near Brisbane who routinely order things from rotisserie chickens to pain medicine delivered by drone.

“I don’t need to get away from my desk until I get a notification,” Shorland said, “whilst some of my colleagues have to jump in the car [and] drive to the closest little retail or shopping center.”

It’s the kind of routine service that has mostly eluded drone operators in the U.S. as they’ve navigated regulatory obstacles, community unease and challenging economics over the past decade in a bid to bring new technology to the puzzle of last-mile delivery.

Industry executives say they have an improved landscape in 2024, however, after federal regulators recently granted several drone-delivery companies permission to fly more freely. That has led several retailers, restaurants and healthcare systems to expand their services across the U.S.

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