Manna plans slow rollout of drone delivery service in U.S. market
By Jim Magill
Manna, a Dublin-based drone food delivery service, plans to launch operations on a small scale in the United States later this year, the head of the company’s U.S. operations said in an interview.
The company, founded in 2018, currently makes food delivers to two cities in Ireland and is authorized by European Union regulators to expand its services to other countries in Europe. But the big prize for the company will be to get a toehold in the fast-growing U.S. drone delivery market, said Andrew Patton, CEO of US Manna’s U.S. business.
“We do plan to be flying in the U.S. in 2022,” Patton said. “The challenge for us in the U.S. is that the regulatory environment is a bit behind what it is in Europe.”
Patton said it is still too early to release any details about the company’s proposed U.S. expansion plans, even to the extent of revealing what city or cities Manna plans to operate in.
“We have several issues under review right now. The FAA’s view on what’s possible is being factored in. We will be pursuing waivers and exemptions to allow us to do as much as we can,” he said.
Manna, which claims to operate the largest and most advanced drone delivery operation in Europe launched its operations in a small village in Ireland delivering medicines and food at the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The name Manna is derived from the biblical story of God delivering food from the sky during the Israelites flight from Egypt.
In Ireland, the company currently operates in suburbs of the cities of Dublin and Galway, delivering to more than 45,000 people, making more than 160 deliveries per day, according to a company spokesman. Manna uses custom-built aerospace-grade quadcopter drones to deliver food directly to consumers’ homes.
Each drone has four arms, with each arm having two rotors. The UAVs fly at an altitude of between 50 meters (164 feet) and 80 meters (262 feet). Flying at over 60 kilometers per hour (37 mph), they can deliver meals from the merchant to the customer’s homes in less than three minutes.
Patton said the company decided on the eight-rotor design because it is more reliable than the standard quadcopter configuration. “We can tolerate more failures and still remain in the air,” he said.
Given the altitudes at which Manna’s drones fly, the aircraft are barely noticeable from the ground, he said.
Once on site at its destination, the drone can lower the purchased products to the customer via a biodegradable tether.
Last April, the company raised $25 million in venture-capital money to fund its growing operations, to include medical supply deliveries as well as its proposed expansion into the U.S. market.
Patton, who last year left Alphabet’s drone delivery company Wing to join Manna, said he is impressed by the start-up company’s entrepreneurial culture. “Manna is a pretty cool environment. The rate of progress is dramatic,” he said.
Under EU regulations, the Manna vehicles are able to fly autonomously, which allows one trained pilot to operate multiple drones simultaneously. This allows the company to achieve up to 20 deliveries per hour from a single location. “We think that that’s over 10 times what can be done with road-based delivery. We think that’s a really exciting delivery service to offer to local merchants who have retail customers,” Patton said.
In order to comply with European line-of-sight regulations, the drones have a delivery range of between two and three kilometers or about one and one-quarter to two miles.
Patton said current U.S. drone regulations present the biggest hurdles for Manna to overcome in order to establish a commercial drone delivery operation on the scale of the one it currently operates in Ireland. Manna conducts its Irish operations under a Light UAS Operators Certificate issued by the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA). This certification allows the company to expand its delivery operations into other EU countries.
“We currently have a great position in the European market,” he said. “In the U.S. for regulatory reasons, we can’t deliver beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), which is fairly limited.” Because it will be confined to line-of-sight flights, the company’s initial operations in the U.S. will be much smaller and have less capacity to expand than those it can stage in Europe.
“That being said, it’s really important to be in the U.S. It’s important to be in partnership with the FAA, who we’ve been talking to for a long time now,” Patton said.
Because it is a non-U.S. company, under current law Manna can’t obtain a certificate to operate under FAA’s Part 135, the provision that allows American companies such as Wing to conduct drone deliveries. Although the FAA’s UAS BVLOS Advisory and Rulemaking Committee has recommended that the FAA harmonize its drone regulations with those of friendly foreign nations to remove such restrictions, the agency has yet to adopt the recommendations.
Patton said that pending changes in U.S. drone regulations, “we won’t be covering the U.S. anytime soon.”
Read more about Manna:
Drone Company Manna Starts Delivery in Dublin Next Month: Thai & Ice Cream [VIDEO]
Jim Magill is a Houston-based writer with almost a quarter-century of experience covering technical and economic developments in the oil and gas industry. After retiring in December 2019 as a senior editor with S&P Global Platts, Jim began writing about emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robots and drones, and the ways in which they’re contributing to our society. In addition to DroneLife, Jim is a contributor to Forbes.com and his work has appeared in the Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report, and Unmanned Systems, a publication of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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