Should FedEx Contractors Be Worried about Drone Delivery?

It is hard to believe it has been almost a decade since Amazon first announced its drone delivery project. Since then, several other big names have entered the arena, including The Kroger Co., who introduced a pilot program last spring to deliver groceries via drone technology, and retail giant Walmart, who recently launched their 7-day-a-week drone delivery service. Even Domino’s has experimented with delivering pizza by drone.

The promise of rapid delivery to nearly any location—even remote areas unreachable by major roads—is certainly an attractive one. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are not only highly efficient but a much safer delivery option, in that they eliminate the risk of vehicle accidents and other driver-related injuries. They are also more environmentally friendly and energy conscious.

All of this is to say… should you be worried about drones replacing your FedEx delivery drivers and making your vehicle fleet obsolete? The short answer is no.

There are still several disadvantages to using UAVs to deliver packages.

Even with the explosive growth in eCommerce fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, we likely won’t be seeing drones replace human delivery drivers anytime soon.

For starters, drones can only carry about five pounds, give or take. This drastically limits what can and cannot be delivered with drone UAV technology. And most can only carry one package at a time, which is not only inefficient but very expensive.

Drones also need near-perfect weather in which to fly, so if it’s raining, snowing, windy, or there are storms in the area, drones can’t fly and packages won’t be delivered. Your delivery drivers, on the other hand, are trained to drive and complete their deliveries in all kinds of weather—a service your customers have come to rely on.

The technology used for drone flight also presents some challenges. As of right now, drones still require skilled pilots to guide them so they can avoid obstacles and land safely, which means an entirely different workforce with a unique skill set would be needed to employ a fleet of delivery drones. There are also unique privacy issues associated with using drones, since their cameras (though necessary to ensure accurate delivery) may also pick up other activity without the consent of those recorded. UAVs are also vulnerable to theft and hacking.

Finally, just as customers pay a premium expedited and overnight delivery, getting packages delivered via drone transport could be extremely expensive. Right now, FedEx two-day shipping for a package weighing 5 pounds is over $20, standard overnight shipping is more than $35. It’s hard to believe customers will routinely want to pay even more for same-day drone delivery, especially considering packages can only weigh a few pounds.

The takeaway: While drone delivery is a neat idea, it won’t affect your route business. 

As a FedEx route owner, you can rest assured that drones will not be replacing your drivers or your vehicle fleet anytime soon. Logistically, there are still too many hurdles to overcome before drones could take over delivering packages to your customers—and even then, they wouldn’t be able to handle the sheer volume of deliveries your drivers deal with every day.

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