Drone delivery service Wing stops flying in Canberra as business shifts focus to large shopping centres

Drone delivery service Wing stops flying in Canberra as business shifts focus to large shopping centres
  • PublishedSeptember 21, 2023

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.

Key points:

  • 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 Tech & Policy Lab.

She suspects community resistance – starting in 2018, during a drone delivery trial in Bonython in Canberra’s south — was also a key factor in Wing ceasing deliveries in the capital.

A head shot of a smiling Julia Powles — she has brown hair and is wearing a white open-necked blouse
University of Western Australia Associate Professor Julia Powles says community backlash to Wing’s presence may have played a role in the company’s decision to cease Canberra deliveries.(ABC News: Ashleigh Davis)

“[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.

In November of that year, 1,043 petitioners asked the Legislative Assembly to abandon that trial, and any planned future trials in the ACT, citing a limited public feedback process, transparency and governance issues, potential risks to pets and wildlife, and a compromised “right to peace, privacy and a good quality of life”.

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.

Wings not clipped completely

White and yellow drone in the sky
Wing has already partnered with supermarket giant Coles for deliveries in the northern Gold Coast as part of its shifted business focus.(Supplied)

Wing’s new business model already features a partnership with supermarket giant, Coles, for store-to-door delivery of small items to northern Gold Coast suburbs, and shopping centre services in the Queensland cities of Logan and Ipswich.

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.”

SOURCE: ABCNEWS

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