UPS has clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration to begin operating a “drone airline,” the company announced Tuesday.
It’s the first company to receive so-called full Part 135 Standard certification for a drone service, referring to the section of regulations that deal with on-demand charter flights and similar operations. Its drone unit, UPS Flight Forward, took its first official flight under the new certification on Friday on the campus of WakeMed, a Raleigh-area hospital system, using a quadcopter from drone maker Matternet.
UPS had announced plans in March to use the unmanned aircraft to fly medical samples between WakeMed facilities. Under the new certification, the company announced plans to offer service to other hospitals and expand beyond the healthcare industry.
“This is history in the making, and we aren’t done yet,” said UPS CEO David Abney in a statement. “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 new certification lets UPS operate as many drones with as many pilots as it wants, and it also has permission to fly at night, fly drones out of the direct line of sight of their pilots, and carry heavier loads.
“The Flight Forward organization is building a full-scale drone operation based on the rigorous reliability, safety, and control requirements of the FAA,” Abney said.