A Dublin, Ohio-based distributor, Cardinal Health is now seeing a way to alleviate delivery delays to pharmacies, restocking inventory, and volatile last-minute shipping prices by moving its first foray through drone deliveries. This decision comes when companies like United Parcel Service Inc., Merck & Co., Walmart Inc. have started using drones in the domestic shipment of medical products and supplies and is seen as a success story.

In collaboration with drone operator Zipline International Inc, the pilot program will start next year to speed up pills, inhalers, and other critical items to US pharmacies. Transport cost cut for time critical shipments is an added benefit of the program. The Aerial drones are expected to carry loads of up to four pounds about 10 miles from Kannapolis NC based distribution center, to local pharmacies in a short span of 15 to 30 minutes.

Cardinal Health’s senior vice president Pharmaceutical Operations, Josh Dylan, is hopeful that the new program would allow the company to bypass road obstacles including those caused by natural disasters and replenish high turnover items and also prove help in emergency situations in remote areas, including scenarios where the time of delivery is important for e.g. like delivering anti-venom for snake bites, etc. Mr. Dylan stressed that apart from speed and reliability being key factors for drone delivery, the program would allow the company to avoid fluctuations in prices for last-minute courier or helicopter deliveries.

The drone operator based in South San Francisco, California, Zipline International Inc has delivered medical supplies to remote parts of Africa, flown in blood and vaccines to outposts in Rwanda and Ghana, and the latest Corona vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE. Its latest deals include delivering merchandise for Walmart in Northwest Arkansas and delivering prescriptions and medical supplies for the hospital system Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City.

Zipline’s drones are about six feet from head to tail, resembling miniature planes that travel 300 to 400 feet above the ground over terrains dropping packages with parachutes into landing zones about two parking spaces wide and can travel up to 100 miles round trip or 50 miles from the distribution center. A spokesperson mentioned that the company is still working out routes with aviation regulators. Eventually, the company aims to expand the program to more products and regions depending on FAA approvals.