UPS Flight Forward

UPS earns FAA certification to fly drones

It’s been a big year for package delivery, and it just got bigger. UPS Flight Forward, the drone subsidiary of delivery giant UPS, this month received air carrier and operator certification from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The news means that UPS Flight Forward will expand its medically-focused drone delivery services to hospital campuses around the country (and eventually expand beyond medical deliveries). The company for months has been testing flights at WakeMed’s hospital campus in Raleigh, N.C., one of the FAA’s test sites to deliver transfusions and other medical samples.

With their newly attained FAA’s Part 135 Standard certification, UPS Flight Forward will no longer be limited by the size or scope of operations, meaning it can now fly an unlimited number of drones with an unlimited number of remote operators in command. It can also fly drones with cargo exceeding 55 pounds and fly at night.

“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
The Matternet M2 drone, operated by UPS Flight Forward

UPS Flight Forward has been using drones built by delivery company Matternet, via their M2 quadcopter drone. The news makes the Matternet M2 drone logistics system (meaning the Matternet M2 drone and the Matternet Cloud Platform) the first system to be authorized by the FAA for use under Part 135 Standard certification. Matternet’s drones can carry packages weighing up to 5 lbs across distances of up to 12.5 miles in operations beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and over people.

UPS has been involved in the drone industry for some time, having participated in deliveries in Rwanda all the way back in 2016 with delivery leader Zipline. It has also tested non-urgent commercial residential delivery in rural areas with drones launched from a UPS package delivery car. It has also actively been participating in shaping government regulations involving drones and has been involved in various FAA drone advisory committees.

What’s next for UPS Flight Forward? The company says it eventually intends to expand its flights to regular operations beyond the operators’ visual line of sight, as well as begin delivering packages beyond just the healthcare industry. The company also has plans to construct a centralized operations control center.

UPS Flight Forward

While UPS Flight Forward is currently primarily working with Matternet, they said they could in the future partner with additional drone manufacturers to build new drones with varying cargo capacities.

2019 has been a massive year for drone deliveries, and this piece of news is one of many similar pieces about drone companies finally getting government approval to actually carry out drone delivery operations. Google recently announced it would begin delivering Fedex and Walgreens products in Virginia. Meanwhile Flirtey unveiled its new Flirtey Eagle delivery drone to fly AEDs to medical emergencies, all part of its work with the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Integration Pilot Program in the City of Reno, Nevada. 

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