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French Postal Service Testing Drone Mail Deliveries

Drones will cover a 9-mile route in Provence

December 21, 2016 | Retail & Ecommerce

Small airborne parcels will soon be winging their way across one corner of southern France, according to the country’s postal service, Le Groupe la Poste.

Internet Users in the US and Western Europe* Who Would Be Likely to Use Select Delivery/Pickup Methods for Ecommerce Purchases, Aug 2015 (% of respondents)

A La Poste subsidiary, the logistics and delivery specialist DPDgroup, will operate the new drone delivery program, carrying items along a fixed, 9-mile route between two towns in Provence, in the countryside east of Aix, following approval by France’s aviation regulatory authority.

This has been a big month for drone delivery. On December 7, Amazon completed its first successful drone delivery in the UK, to a customer near Cambridge with a large garden. But La Poste will be the first national service to use drones on a regular route, starting with once-a-week flights. Residential customers must wait a bit longer to see drone deliveries, though; instead, several tech companies clustered in the delivery area will take part in the postal experiment. Suitable parcels sent to them via DPD France or Chronopost will depart from a pickup point at Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume at one end of the route.

DPDgroup has been working with Atechsys, a French drone firm, on a drone delivery project since 2014, and one of its autonomous drones carried a parcel nearly 9 miles in Q3 2015. According to DPDgroup, the postal drones can fly up to 12 miles at speeds approaching 19 mph, and carry about 2 pounds in weight. Each has onboard GPS and a parachute enabling it to land undamaged in case of problems.

Whether drone delivery takes off in France to a significant degree remains to be seen, but it could run into headwinds. The last study to gauge consumer attitudes toward the idea wasn’t encouraging. When MetaPack in August 2015 asked internet users in the US, France and four other countries in Western Europe whether they would be likely to use drone delivery, only 16% said yes.

—Karin von Abrams

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