Alphabet-owned Wing has become the first drone delivery company to receive air carrier certification from the US Federal Aviation Administration. The certification effectively gives Wing the green light to begin commercial deliveries in the US.
Wing plans to begin a commercial delivery pilot program in Virginia later this year, the company explained in a Medium blog post, as part of the FAA's Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integrated Pilot Program (UAS IPP). Over the coming weeks, Wing will begin reaching out to the communities and businesses in the Blacksburg and Christiansburg areas of Virginia, where it plans to make deliveries from businesses to homes.
Wing worked extensively with the FAA over several years to gain this approval, the company said in an email to ZDNet. Receiving Air Carrier Certification allows Wing to get around some of the regulations imposed by the FAA's formal rules for commercial drone use. The certification will, for instance, allow Wing to bypass the requirement that drone operators keep their unmanned aircraft systems within their line of sight.
To win FAA air carrier certification, the company submitted evidence demonstrating the safety of its systems, including data showing that a delivery by Wing carries a lower risk to pedestrians than the same trip made by car.
In a statement in the Medium blog post, US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said, "This is an important step forward for the safe testing and integration of drones into our economy. Safety continues to be our Number One priority as this technology continues to develop and realize its full potential."
Wing was initially part of Google's X division, which focuses on "moonshot"-style projects. In July 2018, Wing began operating as an independent company under the Alphabet Other Bets group, which also includes the balloon-based internet project Loon, self-driving car specialist Waymo, health company Verily and cybersecurity outfit Chronicle.
Wing already has a commercial air delivery service in the north of Canberra, Australia, and it plans to bring its first operations to Europe this spring.
The FAA's stringent rules have slowed commercial drone activity in the US, though Wing partnered with Chipotle to trial burrito deliveries here in 2016. Meanwhile, some innovative UAS use cases have popped up that work around existing regulations. For instance, the Drone logistics company Flytrex recently announced a partnership with drone company EASE Drones to bring an on-green sandwich and beverage service to a golf course in North Dakot.