UPS Announces FAA Certification to Operate Drone Airline: “History in the Making”

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UPS and the FAA announced that UPS subsidiary UPS Flight Forward Inc. has received a full Part 135 Standard certification to operate a drone airline.   There are four categories of Part 135 certifications, ranging from “Single Pilot” to “Standard.”  A “Standard operator is a certificate holder that does not have pre-set limits on the available size or scope of their operations,” explains the UPS release.   The full “Part 135 Standard” certification is a first in the U.S., although Alphabet spinoff Wing Aviation LLC (Wing) received a Part 135 Single pilot air carrier certificate for drone operations in April 2019. Wing and UPS Flight Forward received the certifications as part of the UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP).

History in the Making

The certification, which allows scalable drone delivery operations, is significant for a number of reason.  Immediately upon receipt of the certification, UPS Flight Forward flew a drone delivery operation beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) at WakeMed hospital campus in Raleigh, N.C.  The company says that the flight was not only the first BVLOS flight for drone delivery, but also the first revenue-generating delivery flown BVLOS.  The mission was flown with a Matternet M2 quadcopter.

Drone delivery, especially in the medical field, has a proven value across the globe, with companies like Zipline providing blood samples, medicines and vaccines.   “Earlier this year, UPS partnered with drone-maker Matternet to launch its healthcare delivery service on the WakeMed campus. This first ever revenue-generating service demonstrated the business case for drone delivery of medical products and specimens,” says UPS Flight Forward. “With its Part 135 Standard certification, UPS is ready to build on this application and expand to a variety of critical-care or lifesaving applications.”

“This is history in the making, and we aren’t done yet,” said David Abney, UPS chief executive officer. “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.”

“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.

UPS Flight Forward says that it plans to expand the delivery service to new hospitals around the country, and to build out ground-based detect-and-avoid (DAA) technologies for safety.  Eventually the company plans on adding new services outside of the healthcare industry.


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