UPS Seeks Authority for Commercial Drone Flights

UPS Seeks Authority for Commercial Drone Flights

Parcel carrier joins a growing list of companies advancing unmanned aerial deliveries as regulators work out rules for the skies

UPS in March launched the first authorized use of drones to transport packages to their recipient. PHOTO: UPS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

By Jennifer Smith July 23, 2019 4:21 pm ET

United Parcel Service Inc. is seeking U.S. authorization to operate commercial drone flights, signaling the delivery giant’s intent to compete in a developing but increasingly crowded sector.

The parcel carrier said Tuesday it had applied to the Federal Aviation Administration for certification of drone flights through the company’s recently formed subsidiary called UPS Flight Forward Inc.

The certification if approved, would allow drone flights beyond an operator’s visual line of sight, at night and without limit to the number of drones or operators in command, the company said. Such flights are highly restricted in the U.S.

The FAA is working out the regulatory framework to govern commercial uses of unmanned aircraft, which has been generally restricted to flights below 400 feet and within sight of an operator on the ground.

UPS is one of several companies vying for approval to ferry food and consumer goods to residential customers in the U.S. as the technology develops and regulations advance.

Earlier this year, Alphabet Inc.’s Wing Aviation LLC spinoff received the first U.S. authorization to operate a fleet of unmanned aircraft for consumer-goods deliveries in a rural area around Blacksburg, Va.

In March, UPS began using drones to deliver medical samples at the Raleigh, N.C., campus of health-care provider WakeMed Health & Hospitals. The parcel carrier says the service is the first FAA-sanctioned use of a drone for routine revenue flights transporting a product under a contractual delivery agreement.

If approved, what is known as the Part 135 certification would “pave the way” for expansion of those services to several other U.S. health-care networks that have expressed interest, UPS said.


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