4 Sep 2016

The takeaway from a low-fact flying fast food yarn

From Mediawatch, 9:10 am on 4 September 2016

Was it really news that a pizza was dropped onto a picnic blanket by a drone in a field recently? Is an age of food-by-air for the needy and greedy really upon us? Mediawatch looks for the takeaway in the media’s appetite for low-fact fast food yarns.

Transport minister Simon Bridges shares a drone-delivered pizza at a photo-opportunity for Dominos.

Transport minister Simon Bridges shares a drone-delivered pizza at a photo-opportunity for Dominos. Photo: supplied

When the transport minister, a rep from a US drone-maker and a Domino's boss shared a pizza near Auckland, they got the kind of publicity money can't buy.

"New Zealand led the world when it gave women the vote and introduced inflation targeting," the Independent in the UK said

"Now it’s claiming another world-first: pizza delivery by drone."

TV3's Story show claimed airborne pizza would soon be "just a tap of a smartphone away". Domino's Scott Bush said they would have hundreds of drones in the air in the near future and Minister of Transport Simon Bridges told TV3: "We will see traffic in the skies."

Pizza drones are go! Domino's gets NZ drone delivery OK," gushed the New Zealand Herald in a story that said drone delivery would start later this year. The story posted Domino's own video of the photo opportunity, its FAQ document and there were quotes from the press releases supplied by Domino's and the minister. 

Mr Bridges hailed the achievement as a triumph of New Zealand’s forward thinking laws for driverless vehicles.

A 'world first'? 

In fact, Domino's has already dropped off pizza in London using a drone, and in Greece as well - though their transport minister wasn’t there to eat it.  

As seen on TV

Gisborne drone developer Dave Drummond

Gisborne drone developer Dave Drummond on TV3 recently. Photo: screenshot

In April 2015, TV3's Campbell Live featured Gisborne drone designer Dave Drummond running a service called Coffee by Drone.

His drone dropped a hot cup of coffee onto a picnic table - 16 months before Domino's drone dropped that pizza onto a picnic blanket last week.

TV3's Story show featured Mr Drummond's drones again just six weeks ago. This week the Gisborne Herald reported that Mr Drummond has challenged Domino's to a drone drop-off race.

But lacking the PR muscle of Domino's, Mr Drummond's story didn’t get out of Gisborne this week, leaving him as perhaps the Richard Pearse of drone delivered takeaways.

Picture of Dave Dunlop's drone dropping off a coffee on a picnic table for TV3 a year ago.

Dave Dunlop's drone drops a coffee on a picnic table for TV3 a year ago. Photo: screenshot

Last year, Mr Drummond's coffee service was foiled by rules restricting his deliveries to open areas within his line of sight. Do the new rules trumpeted by the minister that came into effect in August allow for hordes of drones buzzing through our streets with cargoes of junk food? 

No. They allow for commercial flying in rural areas, but not in areas where or pizza shops and customers exist. 


Hundreds of articles about the delivery trial were published, but few bothered to mention the current Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rules.

In the National Business Review, technology writer Chris Keall proclaimed the stunt "PR BS" and pointed out the CAA rules introduced last year actually say:

  • anyone operating a drone must have consent from anyone you want to fly above.
  • you cannot fly a drone over a person’s property without their permission. 
  • you’ve got to maintain visual contact with the drone for the entire flight.

A CAA spokeswoman also told the NBR that Domino's would also have to meet requirements of local council, iwi and the NZ Transport Agency and Department of Conservation.

"We need to be satisfied that the applicant can meet the stringent requirements and demonstrate that it has a robust and comprehensive risk management plan to run this operation safely," the CAA said. 

"Good luck satisfying the CAA that a minimum wage pizza jockey, under time pressure, can negotiate those safety concerns," Mr Keall said.

Pie in the sky

The director of another drone company told global news agency Reuters:

"I can't truly see how commercially viable that idea is because you would have to literally have somebody walking along to keep it in the line of sight, watching it at all times"

Mr Keall said Domino's knows all of this - but it doesn't matter:

"The drone has already done its PR job," he said.

If the job was to trigger the media's insatiable appetite for novel yarns about fast food, it certainly has.