UPS said Tuesday that it’s expanding its drone delivery service after it received broad approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate a drone airline. UPS subsidiary Flight Forward was awarded a Part 135 Standard certification on Friday, which the company called an aviation first.
UPS’ first approved flight, operated under its Flight Forward subsidiary, was launched at the WakeMed hospital campus in Raleigh, North Carolina. The company said it has previously tested drones for urgent commercial deliveries over water, and tested nonurgent commercial residential delivery in rural areas with drones launched from a UPS package delivery car.
“The Flight Forward organization is building a full-scale drone operation based on the rigorous reliability, safety and control requirements of the FAA,” said UPS CEO David Abney in a release.
The FAA’s Part 135 Standard certification has no limits on the size or scope of operations of the drone fleet, nor on the number of operators. It allows unmanned aerial vehicles to fly carrying loads over 55 pounds, but flights out of the sight of operators require specific approval and each new launch site needs individual regulator approval.
No other company has yet attained this certification, but the field is crowded with eager competitors. Amazon was granted a patent for surveillance drones this year. Uber also made its first foray into drone delivery this year when it announced its negotiations with the FAA. Google toyed with delivering burritos for Chipotle during its testing phase, but its Alphabet-owned sister company, Wing, may be the closest to launch after partnering with FedEx and Walgreens for home deliveries this month.