UPS gets government approval to become a drone airline in U.S.

UPS still faces severe restrictions before it can run a large commercial operation with drones

UPS has won government approval to operate a nationwide fleet of drones, which will let the company expand deliveries on hospital campuses and move it one step closer to making deliveries to consumers.

Many regulatory obstacles remain, however, before UPS — or other operators who are testing drones — can fill the sky over cities and suburbs with drones carrying goods to people’s doorsteps.

United Parcel Service Inc. said Tuesday that its drone subsidiary was awarded an airline certificate last week by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Even before getting that designation, UPS Flight Forward, as the subsidiary is called, has operated more than 1,000 flights at WakeMed’s hospital campus in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The designation removes limits on the size of the company’s potential drone operation. Flight Forward can fly an unlimited number of drones, a key step toward expanding the operation. It can also fly drones at night — the company plans to do that after installing the necessary colored warning lights on each machine.

However, UPS still faces severe restrictions before it can run a large commercial operation with drones.

For example, drones won’t be allowed to fly beyond the sight of the operator without an FAA exemption for each route. Also, each flight will need a separate operator. Scott Price, the company’s chief strategy officer, said UPS will eventually apply for FAA permission to have a single operator fly multiple drones at the same time.

ALSO READ: Vancouver police get green light to use drones for investigations

The airline certificate lets UPS fly drones carrying more than 55 pounds, “but we’re not comfortable we have the hardware for that yet,” Price said in an interview.

Operations will be limited to campus-like settings because FAA has not yet written regulations to allow commercial drone flights over populated areas. Price said UPS is eyeing “hundreds” of campuses in the U.S., including hospitals, colleges and office complexes.

Price said the Wake Forest experiment has been successful, with only “a few” drone flights cancelled for mechanical problems or because of bad weather. He said none have crashed. With a special FAA exemption, the company operated a drone flight there on Friday beyond the sight of the operator, which Price said was a first for a revenue-generating delivery.

UPS believes the earliest commercially viable uses of drones will be for same-day deliveries, for augmenting truck-borne deliveries in rural areas, and for larger drones that could carry cargo of up to a ton from one rural area to another. Price said the latter idea is still years away.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao called the decision a step forward in integrating drones into the U.S. airspace and maintaining U.S. leadership in unmanned aviation.

UPS is racing against technology companies and startups to develop commercial-scale deliveries by drone to consumers.

Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos promised in 2014 that drones would be making deliveries to people’s homes by 2019, but regulatory and technological hurdles proved too much for that prediction. Earlier this year, the FAA gave permission for a unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc. to make drone deliveries, but only in a tiny piece of southwestern Virginia.

Other delivery companies such as Germany’s DHL Express are testing drones. UPS rival FedEx plans to take part in tests by the Alphabet unit, called Wing Aviation.

In the U.S., drone operators have been frustrated by the lack of FAA regulations to allow drones to fly over urban and suburban areas, and to set rules for remote identification of drones. The latter rule would help law enforcement agencies, which were given authority under a law passed last year to track, intercept and destroy drones that they deem a security threat.

David Koenig, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

76 new cases of COVID-19 reported Thursday

Active cases at 1,036, 10,713 recovered cases

Wetaskiwin Regional Public Schools receive grant from Indigo Love of Reading Foundation.

WRPS has received $15,975 from the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation.

Leduc RCMP search for man involved in July shooting

Police believe he may be in possession of a firearm and ask the public not to confront him.

Leduc RCMP charge male following assault with a weapon investigation

45-year-old male was in the victim’s home when he stabbed him with a knife.

COVID-19 tests urged for all teachers and school staff

121 new cases Wednesday, active cases up to 1,040

U.S.-Canada pandemic border restrictions extended into September

‘We will continue to keep our communities safe,’ says Public Safety Minister Bill Blair

AB Infrastructure Minister announces $8,522,800 regional water transmission line

Funding is covered jointly by the province, Ottawa and benefiting municipalities

WE Charity registers as lobbyist, lays off staff, looking to sell real estate

WE Charity said its financial position has been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic

Ermineskin Cree Nation has a new chief

There were seven challengers to incumbent, including NGCI president

Three people drown at Crescent Falls

Rocky Mountain House RCMP say the incident occurred Tuesday

Feds seeking private consultant to design firearm buyback program

The ban covers some 1,500 models and variants of what the government considers assault-style weapons

Face masks for teachers can impact learning on young children, experts say

Face coverings, mandatory in most indoor public places across the province, can help limit the spread of COVID-19

New Tory leader must build a strong team in Commons and for the campaign: Scheer

Scheer marked his final day in the House of Commons today as leader of the Opposition

Most Read