michigan, ontario partner in cross-border drone delivery study

The governments of Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario have announced a joint feasibility study for a drone corridor permitting aerial transport of goods between the two neighbors – and, of course, over the international border between them.

The effort seeks to prepare for the inevitability of drones becoming a cheap, emissions-free, and increasingly used options to road, water, or small aircraft methods of transporting goods between Michigan and Ontario. Among the many considerations to be explored are the operational requirements and navigational infrastructure that will be needed to enable beyond visual line of sight UAV flights between major business centers in both territories. That will be central to developing medium-distance cross-border drone activity in missions like medical transport, just-in-time deliveries, or urgent provisioning for Michigan’s enormous automotive industry and Ontario’s thriving startup sector.

The UAV study is part of a wider effort to increase transport capacities between the two neighbors, who in 2020 exchanged $44.8 billion in goods that financed thousands of jobs on both sides of the border. Fully a quarter of the over $700 billion of trade flowing between Canada and the US annually passes through the Detroit-Windsor corridor. 

Governor Gretchen Whitmer says the drone delivery feasibility project marks the long-standing cooperation between Michigan and Ontario elevating itself with all eyes fixed firmly on the future.

“Michigan and Ontario have a rich history of partnering on groundbreaking innovations,” said Whitmer. “Considering the density of auto suppliers, logistic companies, technology startups, and consumers in the region, it is a natural fit to test this cutting-edge aerial technology here. The vital research could lead to faster product deliveries and reduced supply chain disruptions in the future, helping us grow Michigan’s economy.” 

The two governments will be assisted in their analysis by Detroit-based drone tech company Airspace Link, and its partners Thales USA, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, Aviation Innovations LLC, CityFi, and Grand Sky Development Co. Their feasibility report will outline infrastructure needed to enable a range of commercial and public advanced air mobility uses, including beyond visual line of sight missions. 

Because the Michigan side of the endeavor also seeks to spread the frequency of drone deliveries and other business applications throughout the state, Airspace Link will be additionally tasked with measuring the potential economic potentials of that activity; environmental consequences, including – but not limited to – social equity and noise considerations; examining legal and regulatory details; and identifying how expanded UAV flights will interface with existing transportation modes like commercial aviation, road, and water vehicles.

Michigan’s chief mobility officer, Trevor Pawl, calls the collaboration a manner of increasing flows of goods on both sides of the borders in ways that can complement– rather than replace – currently favored ground transport that often suffers from saturation.

“We know the future of mobility is more than just (cars) – it is on air, land, and sea,” said Pawl. “Michigan is uniquely positioned to study, test, and deploy the technologies that will lead to more affordable, accessible transportation solutions, and (we) are proud to continue to build on our strong relationship with Ontario to take a collaborative, innovative approach to these efforts.”


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