UPS Flight Forward secures FAA approval for drone airline [VIDEO]

UPS Flight Forward is newly certified for drone operations by the FAA. Photo: UPS

The UPS subsidiary UPS Flight Forward (UPS FF) received the first full approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate a drone airline, UPS announced Tuesday. The Part 135 certification was received on Friday, at which time UPS FF launched the first drone flight ever under the certification.

The first-ever flight under the FAA certification used a Matternet M2 quadcopter, flown under a government exemption for flight beyond visual line of sight. With the certification secured, UPS FF plans to expand to transport a variety of items for customers across industries and regularly operate flights beyond the drone operators’ visual line of sight.

UPS formed the subsidiary and applied for Part 135 certification with the FAA in July 2019, then in August, sought certain exemptions from the FAA in support of its Air Operator Certificate. In partnership with California-based drone technology firm Matternet, UPS began operating FAA-sanctioned scheduled drone flights in March, transporting medical samples under a contractual agreement with WakeMed’s hospital and campus in Raleigh, N.C.

“The Flight Forward organization is building a full-scale drone operation based on the rigorous reliability, safety, and control requirements of the FAA,” said David Abney, UPS’ CEO. The subsidiary is now authorized to fly an unlimited number of drones piloted by an unlimited number of remote operators and also has permission for drones and cargo to fly at night and fly with more than 55 pounds of cargo – two restrictions on the earlier UPS FF drone flights that are now lifted under the new certification.

U.S. Transport Secretary Elaine Chao said the UPS FF approval is “a big step forward in safely integrating unmanned aircraft systems into our airspace, expanding access to healthcare in North Carolina and building on the success of the national UAS Integration Pilot Program to maintain American leadership in unmanned aviation.” Previously, regulatory restrictions had hampered the expansion of drone operations in U.S. airspace, but with this new approval, and Amazon Air seeking similar approval for its own drone operations, that may change quickly.

View video of the drone’s first flight under the new certification below, courtesy of UPS:

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