ATLANTA — UPS Flight Forward Inc. announced yesterday that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has awarded it the first full certification for a “drone airline,” or commercial drone deliveries. The subsidiary of United Parcel Service of America Inc. said it plans to start by expanding drone deliveries to hospitals nationwide.
The FAA granted UPS the first Part 135 Standard certification last Friday. Under the certification, an unmanned aerial system (UAS) and its payload can weigh more than 55 lb., flights can occur at night, and there is no limit to the distance (in non-urban areas) or the number of drones or operators. UPS said the certification will allow it to scale its operations to meet customer demand.
“This is a big step forward in safely integrating unmanned aircraft systems into our airspace, expanding access to healthcare in North Carolina, and building on the success of the national UAS Integration Pilot Program to maintain American leadership in unmanned aviation,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.
Wing Aviation, a subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet Inc., received air carrier certification from the FAA in April for drone deliveries in Blacksburg, Va. Wing was also testing in Canberra, Australia, and GE Aviation’s AiRXOS unit used a custom drone to deliver a kidney in Baltimore. More recently, UPS created UPS Flight Forward in July.
In addition to advising the FAA on drone regulations, UPS said it has tested drones for urgent commercial deliveries over water, funded and supported humanitarian deliveries in Africa, and made non-urgent commercial deliveries to residences in rural areas with drones launched from a package-delivery vehicle.
UPS just starting drone deliveries
UPS said it launched the first commercial drone delivery under Part 135. With an exemption allowing beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operation, UPS flew a Matternet M2 quadcopter to deliver blood for transfusion at WakeMed’s hospital campus in Raleigh, N.C. It had been testing flights there since March.
“This is history in the making, and we aren’t done yet,” stated David Abney, CEO of UPS. “Our technology is opening doors for UPS and solving problems in unique ways for our customers. We will soon announce other steps to build out our infrastructure, expand services for healthcare customers, and put drones to new uses in the future.”
UPS said it also plans to develop ground-based, detect-and-avoid (DAA) technologies for drone safety, build a centralized operations control center, and conduct “regular and frequent” BVLOS flights. The logistics company plans to partner with drone makers in addition to Matternet for drones of varying cargo capacities. UPS said it expects to transport “special commodities and other regulated goods.”
The Robot Report is launching the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, which will be on Dec. 9-10 in Santa Clara, Calif. The conference and expo will focus on improving the design, development, and manufacture of next-generation healthcare robots. Learn more about the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, and registration is now open.