United Parcel Service has won the US government’s first full approval to operate a drone airline, giving it a lead in the nascent US drone delivery business.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted UPS Flight Forward drone subsidiary a Part 135 Standard certification. The company said the certificate allows it to expand its delivery service in campus settings including hospitals and universities adding residential deliveries are years away.
The certification allows UPS pilots to fly drones beyond line of sight and opens the door for the delivery company to expand Flight Forward. The fledgling unit is doubling the number of drone flight for its flagship customer, Raleigh, North Carolina’s WakeMed Health & Hospitals.
“We’ll easily get to 20 plus flights per day, per drone,” said Scott Price, UPS chief strategy and transformation officer.
“It’s a business, it’s not a prototype or a test,” Price said of Flight Forward, paid to ferry blood and tissue samples to WakeMed’s central laboratory from around its main hospital campus.
UPS said its latest certification clears the way for Flight Forward to add other campus delivery projects without seeking government approvals.
“There are hundreds of campuses in the United States,” said Price, adding UPS is “eyeing” drone deliveries on hospital, corporate and university campuses as it builds Flight Forward.
“This is a big step in safely integrating unmanned aircraft systems into our airspace,” US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said in a statement.
Under the new FAA approval, UPS Flight Forward pilots may now operate multiple drones under one certificate.
Earlier this year, Alphabet’s Wing, sister unit of search engine Google, was the first company to get US air carrier certification for a single-pilot drone operation. It is testing home deliveries in a rural area around Blacksburg, Virginia.
Amazon, known for its splashy drone delivery tests, also won experimental certification to test drones.
The FAA is writing rules for drone operations, including guidelines for sharing airspace with passenger aircraft and flying over populated areas.