UPS wins approval for "drone airline" with unlimited aircraft
Logistics giant UPS has made a sizeable leap forward with its ambitions around drone delivery, today announcing that it has received some new permissions from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that grant it some serious leeway. It is the first company to be handed a certificate of this type and will allow UPS to significantly expand on drone delivery operations it kicked off earlier in the year.
UPS is getting pretty imaginative in its efforts to modernize its fleet of delivery vehicles. Over the past few years it has been exploring ways of bringing electric bikes, electric trucks, autonomous heavy haulers and even drones that launch from truck-tops into the mix.
Then back in March, it kicked off a drone delivery service using the aircraft from drone company Matternet to ferry medical samples around the WakeMed medical facility in Raleigh, North Carolina. These were claimed to be the first routine drone deliveries sanctioned by the FAA, and were designed to improve patient outcomes by moving important goods across the facility in a more efficient manner.
But UPS' aspirations for drone deliveries don’t end there. As part of an effort to expand this kind of service to customers beyond the healthcare industry, it has earned itself a Part 135 Standard certification, which, in the company’s words, enables it to operate a “drone airline.”
And that mightn’t be all that much of a stretch. With that certification in hand, UPS can now fly an unlimited number of drones, operated by an unlimited number of remote controllers on the ground. Its drones and their payloads can now exceed a total weight limit of 55 lb (25 kg), allowing for some pretty large loads, and it can now also fly the aircraft at night.
It has already conducted the first flight under the new certification at WakeMed in North Carolina, and it plans to soon offer similar services at other hospital facilities around the US before taking on other applications.
“This is history in the making, and we aren’t done yet,” says David Abney, UPS chief executive officer. “Our technology is opening doors for UPS and solving problems in unique ways for our customers. We will soon announce other steps to build out our infrastructure, expand services for healthcare customers and put drones to new uses in the future.”
You can check out the short promo video accompanying the announcement below.