Cheesesteaks are flying on drones — just not in Philadelphia
If you have a hankering for Philly cheesesteaks, you can now get it delivered to you via drone. Charleys Philly Steaks, the world’s largest cheesesteak franchise, today announced a partnership with drone delivery company Flytrex to have its cheesy, meaty, greasy sandwiches delivered via drone.
Although today’s delivery news is all about the Philly cheesesteak, don’t expect to see drones flying in the air above Philadelphia. For now, the deliveries for now are contained to Durham, North Carolina, which has become a hub of drone delivery tests for a number of other restaurants and other businesses conducting drone delivery operations. In fact, Flytrex has been conducting drone delivery flights in North Carolina since 2020, and it claims it has conducted more deliveries via drone than any other company in the U.S. (though Zipline likely holds the title of most drone deliveries conducted worldwide).
Flytrex partners with a number of other companies — primarily fast food restaurant chains — to conduct drone deliveries. Other foods that Flytrex is willing to fly around Durham, North Carolina via drone include menu items from Burger King, McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Starbucks. Recently, Flytrex ran a partnership with ice cream giant Unilever (the company behind brands like Ben & Jerry’s, Breyers, Klondike, Magnum ice cream, and Popsicle) to run deliveries in honor of National Ice Cream Day.
How the deliveries of Charleys Philly cheesesteaks will work
Eligible residents will be able to order most menu items from Charleys (including cheesesteaks, fries and lemonades) via the Flytrex app, which will then handle your payment and initiate the process of sending food via drones to their backyards.
Most Flytrex drone flights are just a few minutes long (though keep in mind that it takes longer than just a few minutes to get your order, as it needs to be cooked and prepared). Flytrex drones can fly up to approximately 5 miles roundtrip, usually flying at 32 mph, and Flytrex estimates that cheesesteaks are in the air for an average of three minutes. Once at your house, the food is lowered via wire to your front or backyard, with the drone hovering overhead the whole time.
What the state of drone food delivery looks like in the U.S. today
While the drone deliveries of Philly cheesesteaks are certainly set to be a delight for fans of the cheesy beefsteak fast food, it is contained to a relatively small subset of the U.S. population.
The Charleys partnership marks Flytrex’s station in the U.S. — and the fourth in the state of North Carolina (though Flytrex already operates other fast food deliveries in North Carolina). Other Flytrex delivery stations in North Carolina are located in Fayetteville, Raeford, and Holly Springs.
Flytrex recently expanded its drone delivery service to Granbury, Texas, just outside of Dallas-Fort Worth. There, it joins another drone delivery giant, Wing, which is a sibling company to Google. Wing conducts drone deliveries in the Frisco suburb of Dallas.
The other big player in drone deliveries is Zipline, which primarily focuses on medical deliveries in developing countries. Though Zipline recently has been developing its U.S. presence. Another smaller drone delivery player primarily operating in Europe, Manna, also announced plans to expand to the U.S., though has provided few details beyond that.
Though not the biggest company, Flytrex is certainly one of the more influential players in U.S. drone delivery. It participated in the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) through its conclusion in October 2020, upon which it morphed into the FAA’s subsequent initiative, BEYOND. Unsurprisingly, Flytrex is also a BEYOND player, working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
And happily for these companies, the majority of Americans want drone delivery. A survey of more than 1,000 American adults conducted in May 2022 found that 58% of Americans favor the idea of drone deliveries, a figure that is regularly growing.
Related read: Liang Feng shares a day in the life as a drone delivery lead
For now, the biggest holdup in drone delivery seems to be with Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) regulations. That applies to drone flights where the aircraft goes farther than what the operator can see, which is crucial to drone delivery. Major progress was made in March 2022 when the Federal Aviation Administration’s BVLOS Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) final report published, and was then followed up with a summer 2022 BVLOS meeting, providing opportunities for the public to provide comments on that report and open the door for amendments.
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