20 September 2023

Canberra's world-first drone delivery service grounded as Wing charts new course

| Ian Bushnell
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Man with drone in sky

Wing’s Jesse Suskin and the company’s quieter drone that flew over Gungahlin. The business model has “evolved”. Photo: Wing.

A changing business model has grounded Canberra’s world-first drone delivery service – at least for the time being.

Wing – a subsidiary of a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet – quietly ceased flying convenience items such as food, coffee and pharmacy items to Gungahlin suburbs at the end of August.

It had operated out of its Mitchell warehouse for just under five years after running trials in Bonython in Canberra’s south that provoked a hostile reception from residents annoyed at the noise and invasion of privacy, prompting questions in Federal Parliament and a Legislative Assembly inquiry.

With quieter drones and good public relations, the Wing operation appeared to be accepted in Gungahlin more than in the south, but that is now behind the company as it pursues a new business model.

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Wing’s Australian spokesperson Jesse Suskin told ABC radio that the company had decided to move away from leasing and running its own merchant-stocked warehouses to flying from large shopping centres in densely populated areas, such as south-east Queensland.

“In Canberra, we had a warehouse in Mitchell where the drones were taking off and landing and where merchants co-located their products with us. Now, we just put the drones at major shopping centres,” he said

“That way, more merchants can have access to drone delivery without that added step of going to a warehouse.”

The slimmed-down model means Wing simply operates landing and take-off pads, picking up directly from shops.

Mr Suskin insisted the Gungahlin operation was successful with thousands of customers, it was just that the business had evolved.

“This is a new technology, and we’re learning a lot from our merchants and from our customers along the way, and we just found that for our merchants, in particular, where they already had existing facilities, where they already had existing stock and staff, it’s much more smooth, much more streamlined to just operate from their existing stores versus having to operate from a warehouse that wasn’t their own,” Mr Suskin said.

He said Canberra didn’t have a suitable centre to fly out of yet but also indicated that the amount of Commonwealth air space in the national capital was a regulatory hurdle for the company.

While he would not rule out a future Canberra operation, Wing’s focus was on the densely populated outer suburban areas in south-east Queensland, such as Ipswich and Logan City, where the company had just opened a new site.

Mr Suskin said Wing would still have a presence in Canberra, staff would be retained here and there would still be some drones in the air from time to time piloting new non-consumer delivery.

“Canberra is a big part of our history. It’s on our radar; we still have our staff there,” he said.

“It’s not to say we won’t ever be in Canberra again, but for the moment, we just don’t have a suitable shopping centre to operate from.”

Mr Suskin said Wing has its eye on suitable areas in other states but would not say exactly where.

“Stay tuned,” he said.

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Wing promised big things wooing Canberra, predicting growth in retail sales in the ACT by $30 to 40 million by 2030, with more than a third of that going to small businesses.

It said drones would slash delivery times and costs, expand catchments for restaurants and other businesses and reduce traffic.

Wing is sticking to that script, just not in Canberra.

Original Article published by Ian Bushnell on Riotact.

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