French postal service adds new route for drone deliveries

La Poste

France’s national postal service, La Poste, with the help of Groupe Atechsys has opened a third route for mail deliveries via drone. 

Alongside ongoing operations in Var — where Atechsys is based — and Isère, the new drone delivery route represents “a major leap forward” in streamlining parcel delivery operations and enhancing customer service, according to La Poste. The route will run between Villard-de-Lans and Corrençon-en-Vercors in the Rhône-Alpes region. 

Traditional delivery methods often face challenges in reaching remote or isolated areas, especially in mountainous regions. La Poste’s drone delivery initiative seeks to overcome these challenges by providing a faster, more flexible and environmentally friendly alternative.

Development began in 2016 with the launch of parcel delivery by drone on commercial routes in Var. Operations were then expanded to Isère in 2019. Since then 2,400 flights have been conducted, covering over 40,000km. The project has also been integrated with La Poste’s main parcel operators, DPD France and Chronopost, to further leverage drone technology.

This new route features a patented solution designed by La Poste and Atechsys that allows group parcel operators to benefit from this air connection and thus pool their flows.

“The delivery person’s assistant” is integrated into the delivery vehicle (pictured right). This system allows the deployment of the drone for takeoff and landing in complete safety. Throughout the delivery, the flight is fully automated under the supervision of a remote operator.

When the packages arrive they are deposited by drone in a fixed delivery terminal which avoids any handling of the drone (seen in main picture). Electrically autonomous thanks to solar panels, the terminal allows recipients to be notified of their delivery by sending automatic emails or SMS. The packages are then collected in the terminal by the post office manager in order to be made available to each recipient.

The drone itself has a range of up to 20km with a max flight time of approximately 40 minutes cruising at speeds of to 40km/h. The drones used on the newest route also feature a maximum payload of eight parcels or up to 10kg, up from 2kg for the drones used on the initial routes. 

Ultimately, the plan is to distribute the service across the Vercors plateau, achieving delivery in less than an hour instead of two hours by road transport.