FedEx Express will test middle mile autonomous drone delivery through a partnership with Elroy Air as the delivery giant looks to improve operational productivity, efficiency and safety, the companies announced Wednesday.
Elroy Air is the operator of the hybrid-electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft Chaparral, which FedEx will use in the testing. The aircraft can autonomously pick up between 300 and 500 pounds of cargo and deliver up to 300 miles away.
Test flights moving shipments between FedEx sortation locations are slated to start in 2023. The companies will work together to identify testing environments both domestically and abroad to perform flights, said Kofi Asante, Elroy Air’s VP of business development and strategy.
The Chaparral could eventually fulfill a specific need in FedEx’s network that its current fleet of aircraft and vehicles can’t efficiently provide today, said Joe Stephens, FedEx Express senior vice president of global planning, engineering and technology.
Using VTOL aircraft instead would improve both volume availability and service reliability within FedEx’s network, Stephens added. The Chaparral doesn’t require airport or charging infrastructure, allowing FedEx to move small levels of volume “in a more direct manner” between hubs, ramps and stations.