Sat, Mar 02, 2019 - Page 2 News List

Ministry expanding drone package delivery program

ECONOMIC BOON:The ministry plans to open more routes for drone mail delivery, study its commercial viability and use it to deliver goods and medicine

By Chen Yi-chia and Jonathan Chin  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

An unmanned aerial vehicle carrying a package lifts off as a Chunghwa Post Co postal delivery van is parked in Tainan in an undated photograph.

Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications is to expand a test program to deliver packages to remote communities using uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAV), ministry officials said.

The program’s initial test in October last year delivered a package from Tainan’s Zuojhen District (左鎮) to the office of National Development Council Minister Chen Mei-ling (陳美伶) in Taipei in two days, Department of Post and Telecommunications officials said.

The improved speed and cost-effectiveness of drones in delivering mail and agricultural goods could be a boon to the economies of remote communities, they said.

The ministry’s plan for this year is to open more routes for drone mail delivery, study the commercial viability of using drones to move goods and use a fleet of drones for serum deliveries, they said.

The ministry early this month is to begin charting and drafting flight paths for mail delivery in Chiayi County’s Alishan (阿里山), they said.

The experiment in Zuojhen and Alishan is to determine whether agricultural produce — such as Alishan’s famed tea — could be transported by drones at a reasonable cost, Department Director Hsiao Chia-an (蕭家安) said.

“We need to learn from the experience of foreign countries before the program could be expanded into a regular service,” he said, adding that based on “the department’s initial assessment, the program is viable.”

Delivery precision and insurance are the most significant challenges at the moment, Hsiao said.

Aside from mail, the ministry’s drones are to airlift serums to mountain villages and townships enrolled in the program in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control, department technician Wu Kun-yen (吳昆諺) said.

Depending on Chunghwa Post’s cost-benefit analysis, either Taichung’s Lishan (梨山) or Hsinchu County’s Jianshi Township (尖石) would be selected as the new location for drone mail delivery this year, with the trial being held for at least one year, Wu said.

The company is observing remote rural communities’ demand for postal deliveries, Chunghwa Post associate manager Kuo Chun-yang (郭純陽) said.

Most regions in the nation have robust transportation networks and fully replacing land mail with air mail has yet to be proven to be feasible, in terms of management and economies of scale, he said.

With the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) poised to announce new regulations for UAVs in July, the agency’s Flight Standards Director Clark Lin (林俊良) said that government agencies and other public institutions should expect to follow more stringent standards than private citizens.

Government organizations would have to register the dimensions, weight and other specifications of the drones they employ for air pollution detection, pesticide spraying, and emergency relief and rescue, he said.

Private individuals are forbidden to operate drones above 400 feet (122m) or at night, but corporations can apply for exemptions, except for the restriction on flights over large crowds, he said.

Although the new regulations have yet to take effect, flight plans and routes over towns or cities still have to be approved by the CAA for safety reasons, Lin said.

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