Ireland finally gets firm plans for anticipated Wing drone delivery service

Ireland is finally set to get much-anticipated drone delivery service from Wing, the drone delivery company affiliated with Google.

Wing announced this month that it would be partnering with Apian, which is a medical drone startup founded by a team of doctors from the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) and perhaps coincidentally, ex-Google employees, to build a drone delivery network. Together, Apian and Wing will work with pharmacies and other healthcare providers to deliver goods via drones in South Dublin, Ireland. Products being delivered are set to include pharmacy items, laboratory samples, and medical devices and supplies — which will be shipped out to both urban and suburban environments.

The deliveries are set to begin later this year, though Wing did not provide a more precise timeframe.

Why the Apian partnership matters

Wing is hugely established on its own in the drone delivery world. Wing is largely considered the second-largest drone delivery company in the world (behind another called Zipline), a position it came to given deliveries with major retail and food partners such as Walgreens and DoorDash.

If you’ve never tried DoorDash before, you can use this link to get $5 off your first DoorDash order — whether or not it’s delivered via drone.

Wing has even launched its own Wing Remote Operations Center, which functions much like a human-staffed air traffic controlled tower for planes. But here, Pilots in Command are stationed in remote locations (often in a completely different state than the drone that’s flying) and are not focused on one aircraft, but rather are overseeing multiple simultaneous flights across entire service areas.

While Wing is pretty well set on its own, the Apian partnership gives it a leg up. That’s because the Apian platform already integrates both healthcare and aviation systems, creating a fully automated, on-demand delivery system.

Apian in itself is no stranger to drone delivery, and can claim a number of firsts. In October 2021, its drones conducted world’s first chemotherapy drone flight. The following summer, Apian drones completed the UK’s first prescription medicine delivery. And in May 2023, they laid claim to conducting the UK’s first beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) blood pack delivery.

Photo courtesy of Apian.

What to expect from the Wing and Apian deliveries in Ireland

Technically speaking, these will be Wing’s second set of drone deliveries in Ireland, if you can call it that. In late 2022, Wing launched some small-scale demonstrations of a drone delivery operation in Lusk, which is near Dublin, Ireland.

At the time, Wing made it very clear that it was just ‘a first small step for Wing in Ireland.’ What’s to come later this year will likely be on a much larger scale.

Much of that is made possible due to recent regulatory progress in the European Union and the UK. Wing relatively recently received approvals to operate in Finland, too. And since approvals can be recognized across European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Member States, they have been recognized by the Irish Aviation Authority. Other UK-based companies have also contributed to helping propel that airspace closer to its western peers. For example, Altitude Angel this summer launched a purpose-built, low-altitude aviation surveillance network, making it possible for pilots to detect drones and other low-altitude aircraft nearby — something critical in enabling BVLOS operations.

For what it’s worth, Wing is not the first drone delivery provider in Ireland.

Drone delivery company Manna launched way back in 2018 in a small village in Ireland, and has since raised over $35 million in venture capital funding. The company made a name for itself in the Emerald Isle primarily when it began delivering medicines and food in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At Wing, we also look forward to future opportunities in the UK after years of collaboration with regulators and contributions to numerous policy forums,” said Shannon Nash, Chief Financial Officer at Wing, in a prepared statement. “Drone delivery in healthcare has a tremendous opportunity for scale, both in operational service and in benefits delivered to patients and providers.”

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