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UPS applies for FAA certification to operate Drone Delivery

  •  Subsidiary named UPS Flight Forward, Inc.
  • The new company will develop and operate unmanned aerial systems for revenue-generating deliveries.
  • UPS Flight Forward is positioned to be one of the first fully-certified U.S. drone operations.

UPS (NYSE:UPS) announced that it has applied to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for Part 135 certification to operate commercial drone flights in the UPS® network under a subsidiary business called UPS Flight Forward, Inc.

The new subsidiary is a recently incorporated business that could receive Part 135 certification as early as this year, putting UPS on track to have one of the first fully-certified, revenue-generating drone operations in the United States.

“UPS is committed to using technology to transform the way we do business,” said Scott Price, UPS chief transformation and strategy officer. “UPS’s formation of a drone delivery company and application to begin regular operations under this level of certification is historic for UPS and for the drone and logistics industries.”

When approved, this certification lays the foundation for drone flights beyond an operator’s visual line of sight, and for flights occurring day or night. Such flights are highly restricted in the United States and approved only by exception.

“Innovation is at the heart of what we do at UPS,” added Rami Suleiman, UPS president for the Indian Subcontinent, Middle East and Africa (ISMEA). “We are constantly exploring new ways in which to use cutting-edge technologies such as drones and autonomous vehicles, as well as alternative fuels, to move goods in a fast, safe and sustainable manner. We have first-hand experience of how drones can make critical medical deliveries in hard to reach places. It is inspiring to see how technology and supply chain expertise can be used to help people from all around the world.”

In contrast to more-limited FAA certifications for drone flights by other companies, which have been more limited, UPS Flight Forward would operate under the FAA’s standard Part 135 certification. This legally certifies a designation to a company as a certified Air Carrier and Operator.

Currently, UPS operates drone healthcare deliveries in a specific use-case under FAA Part 107 rules. In March, UPS initiated the first FAA-sanctioned use of a drone for routine revenue flights involving the transport of a product. The FAA approval was for a contractual delivery agreement in the United States at WakeMed’s flagship hospital and campus in Raleigh, N.C. In this program, the company delivers medical samples via unmanned drones, supplementing a ground courier service. UPS intends to expand its drone delivery service to other hospitals or campus settings.

Previously, The UPS Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, supported the expansion of a medical drone network into Ghana. The project involved using drones to make on-demand, emergency deliveries of 148 high priority products including emergency and routine vaccines, blood products and life-saving medications. The program is an expansion of the groundbreaking collaboration between The UPS Foundation, Gavi, and Zipline which began in Rwanda in 2016 by supporting the Government of Rwanda to provide access to life-saving medical supplies in minutes rather than hours for millions of Rwandan citizens in remote communities.

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