Taking Wing: Brisbane flies into the future with airborne delivery service

29 MAY 2024

Once the stuff of sci-fi stories, drone delivery is very real – and Brisbane residents will soon be able to enjoy the convenience of having food, medicine and groceries flown directly to their door.

Flying at speeds of up to 110 kilometres per hour, and unencumbered by traffic lights, Wing’s drones – built to the aviation industry’s highest safety and reliability standards – are capable of transporting small packages directly from businesses to customers in minutes. 

The US-based company, owned by Google parent company Alphabet, has completed over 350,000 deliveries across three continents since 2018 with its fleet of lightweight, autonomous delivery drones. 

The vast majority of those deliveries have been in Australia – particularly in South East Queensland, which has become the de facto drone delivery capital of the world. 

Jesse Suskin, Wing’s head of government relations and public policy in Australia, says the company considered a range of factors when deciding to invest in the region. 

“We needed to understand the regulatory environment,” he says. “We wanted to invest in a country with a well-respected aviation regulator that had a high bar for safety, and also a forward-leaning approach for how to safely integrate drones into a busy airspace. After extensive research, we found that Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) fit that description.

“From a state and city perspective, we wanted to operate a service where the state and local governments had a vision for using drones to accomplish last mile delivery, and could serve as a partner to the greater community to help with things like education and outreach, and to ensure the service we were operating was helpful and ultimately successful.”

Since 2019, it’s become increasingly commonplace for residents in Logan and surrounding suburbs to have their morning coffee and lunchtime sushi delivered by drone. Wing’s drones take off from shopping centre loading docks and land on a small clear space on the customer’s property, with no further infrastructure or landing pads required. 

In 2024, the company started delivering into Brisbane City, Australia’s largest LGA. Jesse says the move into Queensland’s capital city is a significant milestone for the company.

“Brisbane is a big step for us,” he says. “We’ve been operating across a number of LGAs in South East Queensland, which has been great, and we’re excited that we’re now at the point where we have the regulatory permissions and the business model in place to start delivering into a city the size of Brisbane.”

Learning to fly

For customers, the benefits of drone delivery are obvious – they can get what they need when they need it, with everything from hot food to essential medical supplies delivered in minutes. 

Wing says their drones can save 35-40 million hours for consumers by 2030 by replacing customer pick-up journeys, with delivery times that are 60-70 per cent faster than road-based methods.

For businesses, Jesse says Wing offers them a way to expand the reach of their business by up to four times as many consumers by bringing more households into range, and to increase customer satisfaction by speeding up the fulfilment process.

At scale, Jesse says the autonomy and low energy consumption of the drones also leads to reduced delivery costs, with savings for businesses of up to $155 million per year by 2030.

“The demand for last-mile delivery keeps growing and growing,” Jesse says. “People are doing more of their shopping online, and they’re using food delivery apps more often. So now you have small packages being delivered all the time by bike, by scooter, by car… the whole landscape of last-mile delivery is rapidly changing. 

“We think drones are a great way to help adapt to that change, without needing major infrastructure overhauls, and without adding more cars to the road, which are busy enough already.” 

Jesse says there’s also a sustainability element to drone delivery, as drones have the potential to reduce emissions by taking cars off the road. 

“Our drones are lightweight – they’re made of styrofoam – and they’re all-electric, so they use very little energy and emit zero pollution,” he says. “For example, if you were to order dried pasta, and it was delivered by drone, you’d use more energy boiling the water to cook that pasta than the drone would use flying it to you. 

“Using a car that weighs a few thousand kilograms to deliver a cheeseburger is like using a city bus to move one person around town. If you can use a zero emissions drone that weighs five kilograms to deliver that cheeseburger, it just makes sense to do that instead.”

While it may be an unusual sight to see delivery drones zipping around an urban environment like Brisbane, Jesse says the company is keen to ensure its technology blends right in. 

“Beyond achieving the appropriate safety-related permissions to fly, we also needed to work with the noise regulator for the appropriate permissions before we began to operate,” he says. 

“In practice, we rarely receive noise complaints, because of a change we made in our aircraft which reduced both the decibel level and the ‘pitch’ of the drone. Our quieter drone generates less noise as compared to the cars and trucks they’re replacing to make deliveries to homes. 

“Our community affairs team also checks in regularly with the city and community stakeholders to ensure we’re operating in a neighbourly way.” 

The sky’s the limit 

Wing’s rapid rise is a perfect fit with Brisbane’s strong growth trajectory. With an ongoing wave of interstate migration, the Greater Brisbane population is projected to grow by 43 per cent over the next 20 years, giving the city the population density that the last-mile delivery industry requires to thrive. 

The likes of Amazon, Asahi, BrewDog, YouFoodz, Hilton Food Group and Woolworths have all expanded or consolidated into new manufacturing, distribution and fulfilment sites in Brisbane in recent years, combining with infrastructure developments at Port of Brisbane and Brisbane Airport to enhance the city’s supply chain credentials and ensure its reputation as a logistics hub. 

“Brisbane is one of the fastest-growing areas in Australia,” Jesse says, “and the excitement around the city is only going to increase as we get closer to the Olympics in 2032. Simply put, there are a lot of people and businesses moving to Brisbane, and that means there are a lot of things that have to be moved around. That’s why logistics companies are finding a home in Brisbane. 

“We see drone delivery as an important piece of that larger puzzle, because it gives you the ability to move things around a busy city in a safe, convenient and emissions-free way that doesn’t contribute to traffic congestion. We really think we’re providing solutions for Brisbane.” 

The Brisbane Economic Development Agency (BEDA), which works to drive the sustainable economic growth of the city, has played a key role in preparing the local market for Wing’s arrival.

BEDA acted as a liaison for Wing’s interactions with local government agencies, including Brisbane City Council’s City Planning team, and ensured they were informed of the appropriate approval processes. 

BEDA also conducted site tours of Wing’s Browns Plains facility with Brisbane City Council’s Development Applications team to help give them a first-hand understanding of how the company operates. 

In addition, BEDA helped Wing to find and connect with potential sites in Brisbane, and ultimately helped the company to develop a soft entry strategy that will enable Wing to service Brisbane suburbs from their existing sites initially. 

“We’ve really enjoyed working with BEDA,” Jesse says. “They’ve helped us to make meaningful partnerships within the community, because education and outreach is critical when you’re entering a new market that isn’t used to seeing delivery drones in the sky, and they’ve helped us to work with Brisbane City Council to bring this new technology to life. 

“BEDA has a real appetite for innovation, and that’s exciting for a company like ours. We want to work with cities that have a real understanding of technology, and a passion for it, and that are willing to work with us to bring new and emerging technologies like drone delivery to market in a safe and responsible way. 

“There’s been a real embrace of drone technology here. There are parks that Brisbane City Council has identified as safe and ideal places to fly drones, and there are high schools in Brisbane where students are learning to operate drones. So in terms of a pipeline of talent, we won’t have to look far to find employees who have the skills to work with us. 

“We think we’ll flourish here in Brisbane, and we think this will be a great city to operate in. We think we’ll be able to show other cities in Australia, and across the world, what drone delivery in a big city looks like – and we’re excited to bring that to Brisbane.”

The Brisbane skyline at sunset.