drone certificationFlytrex drones begin meal delivery in Holly Springs, NC

October 30, 2021by helo-10
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You can have chicken wings delivered to your home just about anywhere in the Triangle, but in only one neighborhood in Holly Springs can those wings be lowered into your backyard from a drone.

Israeli drone maker Flytrex has teamed up with North Carolina-based Causey Aviation to begin making aerial food deliveries from Holly Springs Towne Center off the N.C. 55 Bypass to the nearby Forest Springs subdivision. Residents in a designated part of the subdivision can order from It’s Just Wings, which operates out of the Chili’s restaurant in the shopping center.

Holly Springs becomes the third place in North Carolina, after Fayetteville and Raeford, where Flytrex is delivering carry-out meals from the sky. With each new location, the company is refining its operations and preparing for a time when it believes drone deliveries of meals or missing ingredients for dinner will be as common as calling out for a pizza, says Flytrex co-founder and CEO Yariv Bash.

“If you need tomatoes for dinner? Just hit ‘Buy now.’ You’re missing a bottle of wine? Just hit ‘Buy now,’” Bash said in an interview. “That’s basically what we hope to achieve with our drone system.”

Flytrex’s drone deliveries in North Carolina are possible because of a partnership with the N.C. Department of Transportation and a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration of rules limiting the use of drones. The FAA has granted several waivers under a program launched by the Trump administration to help determine how to safely use drones for commerce in the U.S.

The NCDOT program led to two earlier drone projects in the Triangle, both involving UPS. In March 2019, UPS began regular drone flights to deliver blood and other lab samples from medical offices on Sunnybrook Road to a lab at WakeMed’s main hospital on New Bern Avenue. Later that year, the company announced that it had completed the country’s first two home deliveries of prescription medications via drone from a CVS store in Cary.

Flytrex drone
Israeli drone maker Flytrex has teamed up with North Carolina-based Causey Aviation to begin making aerial food deliveries from Holly Springs Towne Center to the nearby Forest Springs subdivision. Residents can order from It’s Just Wings. The Flytrex drone can carry loads of up to 6.6 pounds. Flytrex

Flytrex drones fly without pilots

The FAA had to sign off on the details of the Holly Springs project, and the agency requires the drone operator to keep the aircraft in sight throughout the flight. That’s possible, Bash says, because the drone cruises at an altitude of 230 feet, then descends to about 80 feet before lowering a bag on a tether to the customer’s yard.

“So we’re still above the tree-line,” Bash said. “They are easily observable from the takeoff point.”

Not that the drone operator is steering the drone. There’s no joy stick or controls; instead, the route is pre-programmed, and the craft guided by satellite. If the weather is too rough, the battery too low or the package not secured, the system won’t let the drone take off.

Flytrex had hoped to begin drone deliveries in Holly Springs in 2018. It finally got FAA approval the following year to deliver meals from restaurants in Holly Springs Towne Center to Ting Park, across N.C. 55 Bypass.

But then Flytrex learned it would get FAA approval to deliver food from a Walmart shopping center in Fayetteville to nearby backyards, which is the company’s business model. Rather than delivering to the park, the company started the Fayetteville flights in September 2020 and expanded them to a second Walmart shopping center in Raeford in April.

Using the Flytrex app, people in nearby neighborhoods can order goods weighing up to 6.6 pounds from Walmart or meals and beverages from several eateries, including Starbucks, McDonald’s, Subway and a local Japanese restaurant called Osaka Jr. Express.

More than chicken wings in Holly Springs

Bash said Flytrex hopes to expand its offerings in Holly Springs soon and will eventually be able to reach customers within two miles of the shopping center. So far, the company has signed up dozens of households through word-of-mouth.

“We still have not done any marketing or stuff like that,” Bash said. “We wanted to start doing something really small so we can make sure that things are running before we start expanding the service.”

There’s no extra charge for the drone deliveries, Bash said; the company’s goal is to make them so inexpensive that restaurants and retailers can easily absorb the cost. There’s no tipping a drone either, he notes.

Flytrex is seeking certification from the FAA to begin making drone deliveries nationwide, something that might come as soon as next year, Bash said.

“The FAA is dedicating a lot of resources to make drone deliveries a reality,” he said. “It’s all about regulations. But we have to remember it’s in everybody’s interest to make sure that the skies stay as safe as they are today. So it’s a meticulous process. It takes time.”

With FAA certification, Flytrex would then begin setting up delivery stations around the country and could have hundreds in a dozen states within a few years, Bash said.

Meanwhile, the company is still fine-tuning its backyard delivery system and learning about customer behavior. The first drone delivery is always exciting, Bash said.

“It’s like a miracle; food being delivered from the sky,” he said. “But by the third delivery, people just are in their house. They get a notification on their phone that the delivery has been completed, and then they go out and pick up the bag. It just becomes natural.

“That’s very good, because we don’t want people to just get excited and do a drone delivery or two and that’s it,” he continued. “We want this to become a regular service. And that’s what we’re seeing, and that’s pretty cool.”

This story was originally published October 26, 2021 9:00 AM.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, hospitals during the coronavirus outbreak. He’s been a reporter or editor for 34 years, including the last 22 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, [email protected]





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