At first there were four and now there are five. That is, five companies that are now approved to conduct drone deliveries under a Standard Part 135 Air Carrier Certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). With a Part 135 Air Carrier Certification, companies can operate and complete long-range, on-demand commercial drone deliveries in the U.S. — and North Carolina-based Causey Aviation is the latest to gain such approvals.
Up through the end of 2022, the only drone delivery companies that had Part 135 Air Carrier Certification were Amazon Prime Air, Alphabet’s Wing, UPS and Zipline. The first three are all tied to big, Fortune 500 companies. The fourth, Zipline, is largely considered the biggest drone service provider in the world.
And the newcomer for 2023 is a company that’s quite a bit smaller, and not exactly a household name. That’s Causey Aviation. Causey Aviation gained the Part 135 Air Carrier Certification on Jan. 30, 2023, which now enables it to further expand its drone delivery service nationwide, which it conducts with another company called Flytrex.
Flytrex, which is based in Tel Aviv, has long partnered with Causey Aviation to conduct food deliveries, mainly in partnership with other popular restaurants, in limited neighborhoods around North Carolina and Texas. A spokesperson for the company said it has ambitions to eventually offer food, drinks and other goods to the more than 82 million eligible back and front yards across the U.S.
A spokesperson for the company said it took “years of rigorous training and testing” for Flytrex to get to this point.
Part 135 Air Carrier Certification becomes more common for drone delivery companies
With Causey’s approval, there are now five companies total with a Part 135 Air Carrier Certification. The FAA issued the first Part 135 Single pilot air carrier certificate for drone operations back in April 2019 to Wing Aviation (which is a sibling company of Google), and later issued Wing a Standard Part 135 air carrier certificate to operate a drone aircraft in October 2019.
But Google can’t actually claim title of “first company to receive a Standard Part 135 air carrier certificate to operate a drone aircraft.” That honor goes to UPS Flight Forward, the drone delivery arm of UPS, which slipped in to get the approval on September 27, 2019. UPS Flight Forward conducted its first package delivery by drone with its part 135 certification when it flew medical supplies at WakeMed hospital campus in Raleigh, NC.
Amazon joined the party with a milestone of its own, as it became the first company to operate a drone larger than 55lbs under a standard Part 135 air carrier certificate. And on June 17, 2022, Zipline became the fourth drone operator to receive a part 135 certificate to be authorized to operate as an air carrier and conduct common carriage operations. Not to be outdone with the ability to claim some sort of first, Zipline became the first fixed wing part 135 UAS operator to be certified.
The part 135 certificate for Causey (and by proxy, Flytrex) might be the first to go to a company few folks outside the drone industry have heard of.
What to know about Flytrex
Flytrex is based in Israel, but it first caught global attention when it became launching drone deliveries in Reykjavik, Iceland way back in 2017. It then joined forces with Causey Aviation Unmanned, which has been around for more than 50 years as an aircraft management, charter and maintance company. As far as its involvement in drone deliveries, Causey is the driver in providing drone delivery operational solutions that conform to the emerging safety and regulatory requirements.
Together, Causey and Flytrex have participated in the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP), which concluded in October 2020. That program then morphed into the FAA’s BEYOND program, where it also continued to operate, with an emphasis on working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
These days, Flytrex touts itself as the “largest backyard drone delivery service in the U.S.”, differentiating itself from other drone delivery companies like Zipline that focus more on medical deliveries.
Flytrex is largely committed to food deliveries. In Granbury, Texas, it delivers menu items from Chili’s Grill & Bar and Maggiano’s Little Italy. As of September 2022, it delivers Charleys Philly Steaks via drone around Durham, North Carolina. And Flytrex temporarily partnered with ice cream giant Unilever (the company behind brands like Ben & Jerry’s, Breyers, Klondike, Magnum ice cream, and Popsicle) to run deliveries in honor of National Ice Cream Day in 2022.
“Restaurants know how to work to make food deliveries quickly,” said tech startup Flytrex CEO Yariv Bash in a 2019 interview with The Drone Girl, adding that customers typically have a greater sense of urgency when it comes to food delivery versus other items you might have delivered, like clothes.
“If you’re ordering food, you’re already hungry,” he said. “If a drone can deliver it 20 minutes faster than what a car can do, that makes a difference.”