First drone delivery takes baby steps

An FPS octocopter delivers a car part in what is claimed as a UK first for commercial drone deliveries.
An FPS octocopter delivers a car part in what is claimed as a UK first for commercial drone deliveries.
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A Sheffield distribution firm claims to have carried out the first commercial drone delivery in the UK - by flying a small parcel to the company next door.

FPS loaded a belt tensioner on to a drone and flew it from its premises at 4c Parkway Rise to car parts firm Brakeline at number 5.

The company claimed it was the first business-to-business delivery in the UK and the ‘proof of concept’ flight demonstrated the potential of drones in urgent orders. But it also highlighted just how long it will be until they are commonplace.

An FPS spokeswoman said at present a host of rules were keeping a full service on the ground including ‘line of sight’ - which requires the aircraft to remain visible to the operator.

Legislation in 2018 is set to ease this restriction, but machines must also maintain a safe distance from the public, especially over populated areas and during take off and landing.

The total weight was limited to 7kg and the drone was operated by qualified pilots with permission from the Civil Aviation Authority.

An FPS spokesman said: “Current weight restrictions and legislation around the use of drones, particularly over populated areas, mean that much in the industry will need to change before this is a workable option for regular deliveries.”

FPS managing director Neil Davis said: “In the short term, the drone solution is likely to be cost prohibitive, and with current legislation we are not planning any changes any time soon.

“In addition, given the varied weight of products in our portfolio, it would only really be viable for lightweight parts travelling to customers in less populated zones.

“However this has proved a very useful exercise to form our future vision.”

Jim Mazza of Brakeline parent Groupauto said: “With companies like Amazon investing in drone technology, it seems only sensible for the time-critical automotive aftermarket to be at the forefront of drone delivery development.

“We’re very pleased that one of our members was the first company in the UK.”