Drone Flights Begin This Week in Texas, With Hopes of FAA Approval by Year-End To Fly Goods to Customers
A drone flies over North Texas. (Hillwood)
By Candace Carlisle
October 24, 2021 | 5:13 P.M.
A Texas drone launch property once earmarked for flying cars has a new purpose: helping Google's sister company Wing and its partner Walgreens give flight to the first commercial drone delivery service of its kind in a major U.S. metropolitan area. The vertiport, developed for Uber Elevate at Frisco Station, a 242-acre mixed-use development in the northern Dallas suburb of Frisco, Texas, is expected to launch a small number of drone delivery flights beginning this week.
That's months after Wing began testing its drone flights within developer Hillwood's AllianceTexas Flight Test Center, a testing facility in Fort Worth. The gradual process involving two pieces of specialized real estate reflects the difficulty involved in developing any new type of system, particularly for a retail operation seeking to expand to a national or even global model.
The use of the property for drone testing is also symbolic: It shows how demand for air delivery of goods ordered online has accelerated in recent years, particularly in the pandemic, pushing tests of that technology forward. It also represents a test of what locations and types of sites could be best suited for drone service across the country in years to come. The flight test center is one component of the Texas developer's Mobility Innovation Zone, an area devoted to development of the mechanics and practicality of next-generation mobility. Bell Textron is also working on unmanned aircraft flights within the zone.
Wing has teamed up with Walgreens to develop what the partnership is calling a "first-of-its-kind store-to-door commercial drone delivery service" for customers in two Dallas suburbs, Frisco and Little Elm. While tests are being conducted in other places, the Frisco Station effort seeks to result in the first of its kind service for such a large area.
The testing conducted at Frisco Station is expected to help set the partnership up for commercial drone delivery service, which still needs additional approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration, said Robert Folzenlogen, Hillwood's senior vice president of strategic development.
"Wing has the FAA certification to fly," a process that will be going on "in the next couple of months," Folzenlogen told CoStar News. "But they will be looking to expand that certification through this process [of test flights] over the next few months with the hope by the end of the year they will be approved for commercial flights."
Wing, one of the first providers of drone delivery service in the United States, has an agreement to launch from the site at Frisco Station. But, unlike traditional real estate, no rent is being paid as Hillwood gleans information to help solve the problem of rapid delivery in the nation's fourth-largest metropolitan area and the proportionate amount of traffic. The process is testing the feasibility of what eventually could be applied to both commercial and residential delivery service.
The drone delivery service company is expected to give community demonstrations at Frisco Station, a real estate project being built in partnership with The Rudman Family, Hillwood and VanTrust Real Estate, in coming weeks.
"Wing came to us and into the region looking for an urban retail delivery program," Folzenlogen said. He added that Walgreens plans to use Wing's drones in future commercial deliveries to Frisco and Little Elm customers from a pharmacy location along El Dorado Parkway in Little Elm, a suburb neighboring Frisco.
"On the drone side, air cargo is a whole lot safer to move than a person and there's a need for mobility to keep up with the rise in e-commerce," he said.
Jonathan Bass, Wing's head of marketing and communications, said AllianceTexas Flight Test Center gave the company a good start in conducting its research-and-development efforts, with Frisco Station being an "excellent spot for one of the first drone delivery facilities in a major U.S. metro," with plans to launch the commercial service at the site in the coming months.
It's only a matter of time before commercial drones are flying over North Texas, Folzenlogen said, with companies looking at ways to more efficiently deliver goods. This could change how future commercial and residential real estate is designed, he said, rippling in unexpected ways through what exists now.
"This is coming," he added. "I really think we're going to see drones flying above our communities in a big way in the future."