UPS subsidiary UPS Flight Forward receives the US government’s first full, Part 135 Standard certification to operate a drone airline.
UPS will initially expand its drone delivery service further to support hospital campuses around the country and to provide solutions for customers beyond those in the healthcare industry.
UPS Flight Forward plans in the future to transport a variety of items for customers in many industries, and regularly fly drones beyond the operators’ visual line of sight.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) awarded UPS Flight Forward the certification on Friday and under it there no limits on the size or scope of operations. It is the highest level of certification, one that no other company has attained, UPS says.
UPS Flight Forward’s certificate permits the company to fly an unlimited number of drones with an unlimited number of remote operators in command. This enables UPS to scale its operations to meet customer demand, it notes.
Part 135 Standard also permits the drone and cargo to exceed 25 kg and fly at night which were previously restricted in its earlier flights.
The UPS subsidiary immediately launched the first drone delivery flight by any company under Part 135 Standard at WakeMed’s hospital campus in Raleigh, N.C.
That flight, using a Matternet M2 quadcopter, was flown under a government exemption allowing for a ‘beyond visual line of sight’ (BVLOS) operation, also a first in the US for a regular revenue-generating delivery.
Earlier this year, UPS partnered with drone-maker Matternet to launch its healthcare delivery service on the WakeMed campus. This first-ever revenue-generating service demonstrated the business case for drone delivery of medical products and specimens. With its Part 135 Standard certification, UPS says it is ready to build on this application and expand to a variety of critical-care or lifesaving 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.”
“UPS Flight Forward is benefitting from our knowledge as one of the world’s leading airlines. The Flight Forward organisation is building a full-scale drone operation based on the rigorous reliability, safety, and control requirements of the FAA,” Abney said.
“This is a big step forward in safely integrating unmanned aircraft systems into our airspace,” says US Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.
UPS has been at the forefront of unmanned aerial vehicle delivery, having tested drones for urgent commercial deliveries over water; funded and supported humanitarian deliveries in Africa; and tested non-urgent commercial residential delivery in rural areas with drones launched from a UPS package delivery car.
UPS Flight Forward says it is developing new services for customers with the certification enabling it to integrate drones into the UPS logistics network, creating potential for new applications in many industries. The company has a long-term plan with a number milestones in view, including:
• Expansion of the UPS Flight Forward delivery service to new hospitals and medical campuses around the country;
• Rapid build-out of ground-based, detect-and-avoid (DAA) technologies to verify drone safety, while enabling future service expansion;
• Construction of a centralized operations control center;
• Regular and frequent drone flights beyond the operator’s visual line of sight
• Partnerships with additional drone manufacturers to build new drones with varying cargo capacities;
• Adding new services outside of the healthcare industry, including the transport of special commodities and other regulated goods.