The Irish Aviation Authority says that Manna Aero may not get permission to launch a full food drone delivery service in Dublin, as it hopes to do.
he regulatory view may pour some cold water on one of the biggest drone service launches in Europe this year.
Manna Aero, founded by Bobby Healy, hopes to scale to 50,000 delivery drones for the Irish and UK markets. It will begin with fast food deliveries on behalf of Just Eat and Camile Thai in UCD next month, with a target audience of 30,000 students.
The food will be prepared in nearby ‘dark kitchens’ and flown to students in under three minutes. The drone will hover, lower the food by removable thread and then return to base. The maximum order will be 2kg.
But sources in the IAA said that the drone startup’s UCD launch is regarded as being part of a “risk assessment process” required under regulatory rules. The sources, who asked not to be named, expressed caution about the regulatory viability of a full commercial launch under current conditions.
Manna Aero responded by saying that its regulatory preparation has been beyond what other drone operators have achieved.
“From a regulatory perspective, Manna has permission to fly its drones in Ireland, based on a specific operating permission granted by the IAA for activities in compliance with our flight operations manual,” said a spokesman.
“For our UCD trials, we conducted a specific operating risk assessment (Sora) in compliance with the internationally renowned JARUS document which is recognised by the IAA. This Sora [assessment] systematically addressed the risks associated with these specific trial flights at this location and specified the control measures required.”
Earlier, Bobby Healy said that relations with the IAA have been positive.
“The Irish Aviation Authority have been a tremendous help and guide over the past three years,” he said.
“Working together, we have ensured that our drones are extremely safe in all operating conditions. We look forward to working with regulators around the world as we bring this innovative technology to customers across the globe.”
He said that drone technology would be environmentally advantageous and speed up delivery times.
“Drone delivery provides a faster, cleaner, safer, cheaper and higher quality alternative to road-based delivery,” he said. “I am extremely proud of the team and what we have built. This technology will transform online food marketplaces, restaurants, dark kitchens, and communities globally.”
Manna Aero says that the kitchen used to prepare the food will be on the UCD campus, meaning that it does not have to fly over roads such as the N11.
It will not fly at night for the pilot project, although Manna Aero says that it will fly at night if it progresses to a full commercial launch.
“Our drones have navigation lights and don’t use visuals to navigate so, once relevant to our operation, we will fly at night,” said a company spokesman. “But we will not be flying at night for this pilot. We have been given permission by the IAA to operate between certain daytime hours.”
The pilot will also only see drones fly to one delivery point in UCD, rather than outside dorms or individual buildings.
Healy said that the drones will be tough enough to fly through wind and rain and to withstand attempts at light vandalism.
Manna Aero recently received €4.7m in funding from Dynamo Ventures, a company that specialises in supply chain and logistics firms.
Healy is the former chief technology officer of CarTrawler.
“Technology is at the core of everything we do at Just Eat, so we’re delighted to be involved in these pioneering trials with Manna, who have clearly built a groundbreaking drone delivery system,” said Amanda Roche-Kelly, managing director of Just Eat Ireland.
“We are just so proud to be Ireland’s first online food ordering and delivery platform to provide a commercial drone delivery offering to our customers.”