The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has given postal service UPS approval to run a drone fleet, enabling the company to create a UAV delivery airline.
UPS announced on Wednesday that the federal agency granted the company a Part 135 certification — a high level of certification used by charter airlines — to operate its drones. This permits UPS to fly drones that carry loads exceeding 25kg, to fly drones at night, and to fly the devices out of sight of operators. As UPS puts it, the “certification has no limits on the size or scope of operations.”
The company states that it is the first firm to obtain such a high-level certification for drones. An FAA spokesperson confirmed to Gizmodo, the “FAA approved the first standard air carrier certification for drone operations to UPS.” Google-parent Alphabet, Uber and Amazon are racing to implement wide-scale drone delivery, and this development marks an early win for UPS in the race for unmanned commercial delivery.
Once UPS obtained the certification on September 28, it made the first Part 135-certified drone delivery, flying medical supplies to the WakeMed hospital campus in Raleigh, North Carolina. UPS aims to first use this clearance to start delivering packages to hospitals, but plans to expand to industries outside of healthcare, and eventually start making residential deliveries.
“When the (FAA) regulations are complete we certainly believe there are residential opportunities and other delivery opportunities that will help supplement the incredible group of drivers we have all over the world,” CEO David Abney told CNBC.
According to the FAA, the agency is processing six other Part 135 certificates submitted under the Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program.
There’s no telling how long it will take for UPS to build a country-wide network that can deliver packages to doorsteps — and the company still face many other restrictions and hurdles — but now we know the FAA is on board with that vision of the future of commercial delivery.