At Moose Cree First Nation, detergent costs $30 to $40, milk is double the price it would be in Toronto or Ottawa, while fresh produce is about one-third more expensive.
But residents of the remote northern Ontario community on Moose Factory Island, just south of James Bay, hope they are one step closer to more affordable commercial deliveries.
An agreement with GTA-based company, Drone Delivery Canada, announced October 4th, means the first commercial drone delivery — carrying mail, food, medical supplies and other goods — will happen before Christmas of this year.
“We’re always trying to look for solutions, we’re always trying to look for opportunities and that we’re open to these kind of innovative ideas and forward-thinking companies that could help us serve our people, improve the quality of life for Cree people,” said Patricia Faries, chief of Moose Cree First Nation.
The Sparrow drone can carry 4.5 kilos of commercial goods and travel from Moosonee, over the Moose River, to Moose Factory Island. The trip is about 10 kilometres and would take the drone roughly five minutes to cover.
Tony Di Benedetto, CEO of Drone Delivery Canada, said the cost of operating a commercial delivery drone in Canada’s North is unknown, but he believes the cost-savings compared with current infrastructure will be “substantial.”
He said the company is working on getting a Special Flight Operations Certificate, which Transport Canada requires before operating a drone for commercial or research purposes.
Di Benedetto said the company has already received several commercial flight certificates for testing. They are also working with the regulator to establish a flight path for the drone, just as a plane would require.
Once operations are underway, Di Benedetto believes, it would be the first commercial drone delivery operation in North America.
Di Benedetto said the program isn’t about using a drone to deliver a pizza five minutes earlier.
“It’s about actually utilizing (drone technology) in an area of Canada’s geography where there is an immediate need and there is an immediate impact that it could bring to people,” he said.
Stan Kapashesit, director of economic development for Moose Cree First Nation, said goods are currently transported to the island by barge, the sling of a helicopter, or driven on an ice road when Moose River freezes.
Kapashesit said groceries cost around $5 to $7 per 0.45 kg (one pound) right now, once all transportation costs are accounted for.
Commercial drone delivery will create “a more cost-effective measure to deliver goods to our island,”Kapashesit said. “And hopefully it’s a little bit quicker.”