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February 26, 2020

Yale drone delivery service grounded

PHOTO | Shop ‘til you drop?: A Yale drone delivery service has suspended beta testing.

Will drone delivery of goods and services to individual consumers soon become a practical reality in New Haven?

A college-student entrepreneur says yes. Last year Yale College senior Jason Lu founded Kiki Air, which sounds like a regional commuter airline but is in fact a drone-delivery service supplying snacks and other sundries via a mobile-phone app to busy Yale students who can’t be bothered to walk down to the corner convenience store.

Lu’s concept even attracted a $150,000 grant from Y Combinator, a California-based investor in startups.

Users order items using a menu on the mobile-phone app. The items are then delivered to one of several on-campus locations in a padded parcel carried by a drone.

Kiki Air was in the process of conducting a round of beta testing through March 6 with a goal of a full rollout of the service in time for the autumn semester. However, earlier this week Kiki Air suspended the delivery service over compliance concerns with both the university and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Yale’s Environmental Health & Safety website specifies that the university, in conjunction with the FAA, oversees the operation of all unmanned aircraft on campus. According to the Yale Daily News, all unmanned aircraft operators must receive approval from the school’s environmental health and safety office and Office of Risk Management.

The FAA classifies the space above the Yale campus as Class D airspace, meaning it’s within the vicinity of an airport (Tweed New Haven Airport) with an operational control tower. Lu told the YDN that Kiki Air does have Class D authorization; however, a Yale spokesperson told the student newspaper the university was still reviewing Kiki Air’s application to operate in campus airspace.

Lu has emphasized that Kiki Air’s drones are piloted by FAA-certified and -licensed student operators, most from the Yale Air Force ROTC program. However, earlier this month the YDN reported that a Kiki Air drone fell on a campus walkway.

There were no reported casualties.

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