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UPS Wins Race to Become First FAA Certified Drone Airline Operator

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By Patrick Paul

On October 1, 2019, UPS and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that a UPS subsidiary, UPS Flight Forward Inc., received FAA approval under 14 CFR Part 135 to operate a drone airline.  This approval will allow UPS Flight Forward to operate multiple revenue-generating package delivery drones under a single FAA certificate in complete compliance with applicable regulations.

Part 135 includes four categories of certifications ranging from “single pilot” to “standard.”  The award of full Part 135 Standard Certification to UPS is a significant first for drone flight in the United States.  Initially, UPS Flight Forward intends to utilize the certification to expand drone delivery service to support hospitals throughout the United States including the transportation of blood samples, medicines, and vaccines. Although currently limited to the healthcare industry, UPS Flight Forward plans to expand its services, inevitably to include some form of future package delivery system.

As the first company in the nation to attain this highest level of certification, UPS Flight Forward is now permitted to fly an unlimited number of drones with an unlimited number of remote operators.  Additionally, Part 135 certification allows the drone and its cargo to exceed 55 pounds and to fly at night; both previously not permitted.  UPS Flight Forward participated in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program and achieved its certification by demonstrating consistently that its operations met the FAA’s rigorous safety requirements, according to a press release from the US Department of Transportation.

Although UPS Flight Forward is the first company to achieve such certification, others engaged in the transport and delivery industries are close behind and additional certifications can be anticipated in the coming months.