September 25, 2014 10:25 AM, EDT

DHL Beats Amazon, Google to First Planned Drone Delivery


Deutsche Post AG, Europe’s largest postal service, is about to begin deliveries of medication and other urgent goods to the island of Juist using unmanned helicopters after securing approval from state and federal transport ministries and air traffic control authorities to operate in a restricted flight area. The vehicles, called parcelcopters, will fly for four to six weeks in the pilot project, the Bonn-based company said.

“With the parcelcopter, an unmanned aircraft operating outside the controller’s field of vision will perform deliveries for the first time in a real-world mission,” Juergen Gerdes, Deutsche Post’s board member responsible for mail, parcel and electronic commerce activities, said in a statement.

Online retailer Inc. and search giant Google Inc. have begun testing drones for deliveries, while the Federal Aviation Administration last year said it won’t permit autonomous flights without pilots in the U.S. until it crafts rules for them.

The German company will fly the drones along the 7.5 mile stretch from the passenger port of Norddeich to a designated launch pad on Juist, from where a local courier service will transport the goods to the recipient. The service will improve availability of medication on the island, which is a car-free zone that’s only reachable by aircraft and ferry.

Powered by four identical fixed-pitch propellers, the drone can carry loads of up to 2.6 pounds in specially designed containers.

Google’s researchers have been exploring the use of unmanned aircraft for about two years, testing the delivery of radios, dog treats and cattle vaccines to farms in Queensland, Australia. Amazon has only tested drones within the confines of its laboratories or outside the U.S.