Drone package delivery services are expanding worldwide but Latin America’s are consistently cutting-edge. In May, a Brazilian start-up, Speedbird Aero became that country’s first company to be certified by the ANAC, Brazil’s equivalent of the F.A.A., to operate remotely piloted drones for deliveries. A similar breakthrough just occurred in Peru, where a joint venture between the Canadian technology firm Volatus Aerospace and a local counterpart will allow aerial package deliveries to accelerate rapidly over the next two years. Drone package delivery, most of it launched by local start-ups, is also taking off in Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico, but it’s blockbuster Brazil, Latin’s America’s largest country by population and territory, that’s leading the pack.
Market research by Statista reveals the full magnitude of this continent-wide shift: from a mere $13 million in value (in US dollars) in 2020, the retail service segment of Latin America’s drone delivery market will reach a whopping USD$428 million by 2030. A similar mushrooming is anticipated for the remote medical services delivery market, with a value of $328 million anticipated by 2030. No other region, including the US, has a drone delivery market expanding so rapidly.
Delivery drones have a unique niche in Latin America because the continent still lacks extensive road infrastructure to service areas beyond its largest cities. Moreover, in addition to steep mountains, dense rainforests and jungles can make large swathes of territory inaccessible to road vehicles, especially during the rainy season. Even Latin American cities with developed road systems are heavily over-populated and clogged with vehicle traffic during the day, leading to massive transportation delays. Drones, operating alone or as part of a multi-modal logistics system, can help overcome these obstacles, and upscale consumers are increasingly willing to pay premium prices to ensure speedy package delivery.
Speedbird Aero is one of a number of Latin America-based UAV companies experimenting with rapid aerial delivery systems in partnership with fast-food chains, like iFood. So far, Speedbird and iFood have received permission to operate two drone food service routes in the Brazilian city of Campinas, with plans to go nationwide (with 50 separate routes) in 2023-2024. In the current test, food packages must not weigh more than 2.5 kms. and all deliveries must be conducted within the drone opersator’s visual line of sight, at a distance of no more than 3 kms. The drones are also prohibited from completing their home or office food deliveries; motorcyclists and bicyclists will be standing by to make the final leg of the trip by road.
Still, a direct comparison between all-road and drone-led package delivery is instructive. When iFood tested meal delivery times in two municipalities, it found that its Speedbird drones covered a 2.8 kilometer route in just over 5 minutes while a road vehicle alone took between 25 and 55 minutes. Drones also allowed iFood to save on fuel costs and to reduce toxic vehicle emissions.
Speedbird is also pioneering in a different fashion: by manufacturing its own UAV models locally. Two of its future models will carry loads of up to 5 and 8 kilograms, while flying in an expanded radius of 7 and 50 kilometers, respectively. To meet expanding demand, Speedbird plans to hire and train 100 new remote UAV pilots, with additional jobs in engineering, software and maintenance and professional positions in sales, human resources, and marketing.