On October 1, 2019, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced it has “awarded air carrier and operator certification to an unmanned aircraft system (UAS/drone) delivery company, UPS Flight Forward.”
Technically, that means the UPS drone delivery business now has Part 135 certification that “allows the company to perform revenue-generating package delivery activities within federal regulations. UPS Flight Forward, Inc. is now a full-fledged airline with as many drones as it chooses to fly deliveries beyond “the visual line of sight.” The UPS drone airline is the first in the United States to win FAA approval.
UPS FLIGHT FORWARD, INC.
One immediate impact will be seen at the WakeMed hospital campus in Raleigh, N.C., where the UPS subsidiary, Flight Forward, Inc., has been delivering blood for lab work and transfusions since March of 2019, operating in a specific use-case under FAA Part 107 rules. The medical complex has six adult-intensive-care units, a surgery center, two emergency centers, a rehabilitation hospital, a neonatal intensive care nursery, and laboratories and diagnostic services.
In its one-year trial period, UPS has flown almost 1,000 single-operator drone flights at the medical campus. According to the FAA, “The company demonstrated that its operations met the FAA’s rigorous safety requirements to qualify for an air carrier certificate. This is based on extensive data and documentation, as well as test flights.”
With the new FAA certification, the UPS drone fleet can now expand and fly beyond sight-monitoring centers. It also allows the company to “fly an unlimited number of drones with an unlimited number of remote operators in its command.” The craft plus cargo can now exceed 55 lbs. and fly at night, both previously not allowed.
In its October press release, the company promises six milestones in its ultimate plan for integrating drone flights into the UPS logistics network:
- Expand the UPS Flight Forward delivery service to other hospitals and medical campuses around the U.S.
- Rapidly build out ground-based, detect-and-avoid (DAA) technologies to ensure safe operations.
- Build a centralized operations center.
- Create regular scheduling for beyond operator’s line-of-sight deliveries.
- Partner with drone manufacturers that can provide varying cargo capacities. Currently Matternet M2 drones are used for the WakeMed fleet. (Specifics on the drone are available at mttr.net.)
- Expand beyond healthcare to include “the transport of special commodities and other regulated services.”
David Abney, UPS CEO, points out, “UPS Flight Forward is benefitting from our knowledge as one of the world’s leading airlines.” According to company sources, “UPS Airlines integrates small packages and heavy freight in its daily network of more than 500 aircraft and more than 2,200 flight legs that reach 779 destinations in over 220 countries and territories worldwide.” The major arteries of the current global air network that branch out from the 5.2-million-square-foot UPS Worldport in Louisville, Ky., will soon be joined with networks of smaller capillaries traced out in more localized drone delivery routes.