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TechCrunch reports UPS Gets FAA Approval to Operate an Entire Drone Delivery Airline

UPS announced today that it is the first to receive the official nod from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate a full “drone airline,” which will allow it to expand its current small drone delivery service pilots into a country-wide network.

In its announcement of the news, UPS said that it will start by building out its drone delivery solutions specific to hospital campuses nationwide in the U.S., and then to other industries outside of healthcare.

UPS racks up a number of firsts as a result of this milestone, thanks to how closely it has been working with the FAA throughout its development and testing process for drone deliveries. As soon as it was awarded the certification, it did a delivery for WakeMed hospital in Raleigh, N.C. using a Matternet drone, and it also became the first commercial operator to perform a drone delivery for an actual paying customer outside of line of sight thanks to an exemption it received from the government.

First Ever No-Line-of-Sight Commercial Application

UPS subsidiary Flight Forward has more details.

  • Makes first revenue-generating flight beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS)
  • UPS’s full “Part 135 Standard*” certification is a first for any company
  • UPS to expand company’s drone delivery network serving healthcare and other customer applications

Unlimited Number, Nightime Operation

“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 FAA’s Part 135 Standard certification has no limits on the size or scope of operations. It is the highest level of certification, one that no other company has attained. UPS Flight Forward’s certificate permits the company to fly an unlimited number of drones with an unlimited number of remote operators in command. This enables UPS to scale its operations to meet customer demand. Part 135 Standard also permits the drone and cargo to exceed 55 pounds and fly at night, previous restrictions governing earlier UPS flights."

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This was faster and more complete and less restricted than I expected.

What About Amazon?

How far behind can Amazon be?

I suspect less than a year.

The implications are enormous. Drones will eventually take over small-package delivery (up to 55 pounds) in suburbia and residential areas where drones can easily land.

One can rule out deliveries to the 44th floor of a high-rise apartment and to high-crime areas, but otherwise, many delivery driving jobs will vanish sooner or later.

Driverless Trucking Coming Up

I believe Federal DOT approval of commercial driverless trucking on interstate highways will follow soon.

When (not if) that happens, the alleged shortage of truck drivers will morph into a huge surplus almost immediately.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock