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FAA certifies UPS Flight Forward as an air carrier

The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has awarded air carrier and operator certification to UPS Flight Forward, an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) delivery company.

Through the DOT’s UAS Integration Pilot Program, the FAA has now approved a Part 135 operating certificate for UPS Flight Forward. This allows the company to perform revenue-generating package delivery activities within federal regulations.

UPS Flight Forward may now operate multiple drones under one certificate. Under Part 135, the company can deliver vital healthcare supplies including by flying beyond visual line of sight.

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 U.S. for a regular revenue-generating delivery.

UPS said it has proven the need for drone delivery in healthcare operations, where the shortest time in transit can improve efficiency and help healthcare professionals better serve patients.

The medical delivery program at WakeMed is the result of testing conducted by UPS and Matternet in August of 2018 as part of their participation in the UAS Integration Pilot Program (UAS IPP).

UPS partnered with Matternet to launch its healthcare delivery service on the WakeMed campus. The revenue-generating service demonstrated the business case for drone delivery of medical products and specimens.

Now, with its Part 135 Standard certification, UPS is ready to build on this application and expand to a variety of critical-care or lifesaving applications.

Photo: UPS

Photo: UPS

“This is history in the making, and we aren’t done yet,” said 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.”

The company 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.

Part 135 Standard certification enables UPS to integrate drones into the UPS logistics network, creating potential for new applications in many industries. The company has a long-term plan with milestones that include:

  • 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.

“UPS is committed to using technology to transform the way we do business,” said Scott Price, UPS chief transformation and strategy officer. “UPS’s formation of a drone delivery company and application to begin regular operations under this level of certification is historic for UPS and for the drone and logistics industries.”

As a participant in the U.S. Transportation Department’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) partnered with UPS Flight Forward. As the operator, they have been engaged in delivery of healthcare supplies around a major hospital campus in Raleigh, North Carolina. The flights have focused on the delivery of blood for potentially life-saving transfusions, as well as other medical samples for lab work.

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.

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