World-first commercial drone delivery service Wing Aviation promised Canberrans hyper-convenience while cutting costs and carbon emissions, but almost five years after it started delivering household items to select ACT suburbs, the service has ceased locally.
Drone delivery service Wing Aviation has stopped flying in Canberra as it moves away from having its own warehouses
Wing had been delivering food, drinks and medicine in parts of Gungahlin for almost five years
The company says it will shift its business to operate out of major shopping centres
Wing Aviation — a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet — had been operating from Gungahlin for just under five years delivering food, coffee and pharmacy items direct to people’s homes.
Wing’s head of public policy Jesse Suskin told ABC Radio Canberra the company has moved away from having its own warehouses.
“Over the years, as we’ve been operating more and growing more, we’ve shifted our [operating] model from flying drones from our own facilities,” he said.
“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 the change enabled more merchants to sign on “without that added step of a warehouse”, and more customers to sign up.
Mr Suskin defined the new retail sites as “very large” spaces with more than 100 stores, and located in densely populated areas.
“[They are located] where there’s a lot of traffic … where people have to wait 15 to 20 minutes just to get into the centre, to run in for that quick item,” he said.
“We don’t have a suitable shopping centre just yet, in the Canberra area.”
Expert suggests community resistance played a role in Wing’s decision
University of Western Australia Associate Professor Julia Powles has been studying drone delivery in Australia for the past five years through the UWA’s Minderoo Tech & Policy Lab.
“[Bonython residents] came together and said, ‘this is not right. A company is deciding that we should be the guinea pigs of, effectively, a junk food delivery service operating day and night and we can’t do anything about it’,” Ms Powles said.
Ms Powles said there had also been community backlash in Gungahlin, where Wing expanded in 2019 after gaining approval from the Australian aviation authority, CASA.
At the time, the company estimated the expanded service would generate up to $40 million for ACT businesses, while Chief Minister Andrew Barr suggested the drone noise was similar to other residential sounds, like lawnmowers.
“It’s an interesting demonstration of the power of technological promise and industry capture over regulators,” Ms Powles said.
A second Logan site is opening in south-east Queensland this week.
“It all seems like a beautiful vision [but] what it masks is that this is a whole new arena of commerce in our skies,” Ms Powles said.
“We’ve done fieldwork at the Logan site and they’ve got a very different demographic, very different dynamics of population growth, and much less community organisation to say ‘Wait a minute, how are our cities being transformed by the overflight of, frankly, coffee and fried chicken-delivering drones, that are convenient … but have a dramatic impact on quality of life?'”
“That’s what Canberra residents have consistently and effectively been resisting.”
But Mr Suskin said despite ceasing deliveries in Canberra, Wing was maintaining some presence in the ACT.
“Canberra is a big part of our history and it’s on our radar,” he said.
“We [still] have pilots there, geospatial experts. There still will be some drones in the air from time to time, piloting new non-consumer delivery.”