Wilhelmsen insights

Are drones a game changer for last mile deliveries?

In our opinion, drones could be a game changer and we are not the only company out there who thinks that. Here are several reasons why.

Wilhelmsen insights |
Marius Johansen , VP Business Solutions & Marketing, Ships Agency

Marius Johansen


Using drones, rather than launch boats can help reduce costs by up to 90% for vessel operators and ship managers. Our research shows that the cost of launch boats is on average $1,500 per hire, but this can vary depending on port location and in certain ports costs per hire can amount to as much as $4,000. Drones on the other hand, by our estimations, could offer cost savings across the entire industry of up to $675 million. Drones also have the potential to offer customers a number of delivery options to choose from depending on location and service to be carried out.

Speedier deliveries

Drone technology has proven its ability to speed up deliveries, slashing the lead times we typically see on traditional forms of last mile delivery. Long lead times on the delivery of crucial spare parts, vital medicine or necessary documentation, of course results in time lost and increased costs. The use of fast and reliable drones will help ensure that vessels’ waiting time for deliverables is kept to a minimum. For example, the semi – autonomous drone types Wilhelmsen have reviewed for parcel delivery can reach a speed between 10 - 30 m/s.

Less labour dependent

Today, using launch boats typically requires the use of ropes, cranes and/or crew climbing onboard to hand over the parcels. Semi-autonomous drones are obviously less labour dependent, with a preprogrammed drone ensuring precise landing on the vessel’s deck for the seamless handover of important packages.

Whether it is deliveries of critical documents or vital medical supplies, tank inspections, or monitoring cargo and stockpile levels, we believe semi-autonomous drone flights can support and further enhance what our ships agency team can offer our customers. 

Our drone project takes flight

On May the 4th we decided that one of our many test flights would be documented to show how we believe drone deliveries could take shape in the future. The Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority approved our drone delivery with a payload.

To make the scenario as close to reality as possible we simulated that a vessel had problems with a broken fuel pipe. The drone took off smoothly with a parcel weighing 1 kg. The whole process of mounting the package to the drone, take-off and dropping to the vessel took approximately 1 minute with a flight of 500m. Larger cargo vessels will typically have assigned landing spaces on deck for the drones to land, rather than the parcel dropping from the drone. For this service to be available to most customers we are considering both options for delivery.

Why is drone technology important to us?

We are confident that in the years to come the applications of drones will increase in a variety of industries. Despite complex aviation regulations, we believe the value drones can offer customers is far greater than the obstacles we need to overcome before the widespread adoption of this technology is complete. As our customers’ trusted partner in port, we see ourselves as in a natural position to utilize new technologies, which can help improve port operations.

Learn more about Wilhelmsen Ships Agency

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