UPS Flight Forward, the drone subsidiary of UPS, has achieved the highly restricted Part 135 air carrier certification, which allows for approved UPS drones to fly over people, at night and out of the operator's line of sight. The certification, the highest level of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval for a drone delivery operation, is a key step in the company's plan to integrate drone delivery into the broader UPS logistics network.
For now, UPS is focused on expanding its drone delivery service to more hospital campuses, building on the success of an ongoing test program in North Carolina. There, UPS is using a Matternet M2 quadcopter to transport medical supplies throughout the WakeMed hospital campus.
The FAA certification gives UPS the wherewithal to build an operations control center for its drone program, where it can run "regular and frequent drone flights beyond the operator's visual line of sight". The company also intends to build out ground-based, detect-and-avoid (DAA) drone safety technologies to support future drone service expansion. The company also plans to form more partnerships with drone manufacturers and explore new services outside of the healthcare industry.
Add it all up and UPS is setting itself up to run one of the few commercial drone delivery programs in the US.
Stringent regulatory restrictions have hampered the rollout of commercial drone delivery programs in the US. In April, the FAA gave Alphabet-owned Wing the green light to begin commercial drone deliveries -- by granting it the Part 135 air carrier certification that allows it to bypass certain drone regulations.
Meanwhile, Amazon announced in June a new commercial delivery drone that it said would be delivering packages to customers within months. The new drone marked a significant milestone for Amazon's Prime Air program, which has developed more than two dozen drone designs since its inception. However, unlike Alphabet's Wing, Amazon's FAA clearance came in the form of an "experimental airworthiness certificate" that lets the company perform advanced testing of its drones.
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