North Carolina drone delivery deal enables Zipline’s U.S. expansion

On the heels of news dropped at the end of 2021 that Zipline was massively expanding its U.S. drone delivery footprint due to a partnership with Utah-based Intermountain Healthcare, Zipline has landed another big deal that will enable it to bring medical deliveries to North Carolina.

Magellan Rx Management, which is the full-service pharmacy benefits management division of Magellan Health, Inc., and drone delivery company Zipline in February announced a partnership to deliver prescription medications to patients’ homes in select areas around North Carolina via drone. For now, flights are set to originate out of Zipline’s distribution center in Kannapolis, North Carolina and will be able to deliver items within a 50 mile radius from the launch point.

Deliveries are likely set to begin sometime in 2022; Zipline is mostly just waiting on approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration (most drone deliveries need extra Part 107 exemption waivers for operations such as flying beyond visual line of sight).

And given the nature of the items being delivered, that will make Magellan Rx the first pharmacy benefits manager (PBM) to deliver specialty and traditional medications through Zipline, as opposed to more generic medical supplies, as we’ve largely seen being delivered by drone to date.

The news is set to grow the ever-expanding Zipline drone delivery empire, which to date has flown more than 16 million miles, completed over 235,000 commercial deliveries, and will soon operate in five countries.

Among its most recent growth areas is with Intermountain Healthcare, which is a Utah-based, not-for-profit system of 24 hospitals, operating in Utah, Idaho, and Nevada. That partnership will enable Zipline to make deliveries within 50 miles of launch locations (expected to be located in those states), and deliveries are set to launch by mid-2022. Zipline says it anticipates making hundreds of deliveries per day within a few years, able to reach approximately 90% of patient homes in the Salt Lake City metro area. 

Zipline has primarily flown in developing countries (which makes sense given the need for drones to fly more efficiently than poorly maintained or nonexistent roads). Since Zipline launched in 2011, it has delivered medical supplies via drone to countries including Rwanda (its first delivery location, back in 2016), Tanzania, Ghana, India and the Philippines.

Though, this is not Zipline’s first time flying in North Carolina. In the early months of the COVID-19 outbreak, Zipline partnered with North Carolina-based non-profit healthcare system Novant Health to shuttle personal protective equipment and critical medical supplies to Novant Health frontline medical teams in the Charlotte, North Carolina, metro area in a method that allows for contactless distribution. Those flights were conducted in coordination with the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s (NCDOT’s) as part of the FAA’s broader Unmanned Aircraft System (IPP).

And here’s a fun fact: on average, Zipline makes a delivery once every four minutes.


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