UPS delivery drones
by Rockwell Sands @

UPS Delivery Drones Cleared by the FAA for Longer-Range Flights

UPS delivery drones get FAA approval to fly beyond where their ground operators can see them, paving the way for more local drone deliveries

This week, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved UPS delivery drones to fly longer distances beyond the sight of their ground operators.  On top of UPS drones, the FAA’s move potentially paves the way for other drone delivery companies like Wing and Zipline to service more customers by being able to deliver packages across a broader area.

UPS Delivery Drones Previously Needed to Fly Within a Spotter’s Line of Sight

The FAA’s approval for UPS drones to fly longer distances comes about a month after members of the Teamsters Union reached a historic labor deal with UPS for the union representing 340,000 employees at the shipping carrier.

In a press release, the FAA said that UPS Flight Forward—a subsidiary of UPS that focuses on drone delivery—can now deliver small packages beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) without spotters on the ground monitoring the route and skies for other aircraft. In layman’s terms, the approval means that the UPS delivery drones are authorized to fly to areas beyond where their operators can see them. While the FAA said that its approval applied to BVLOS, the agency didn’t specify the exact distance that “BVLOS” is designated as.

In its approval ruling, the FAA also granted authorizations to two other companies’ drones to fly BVLOS for commercial purposes. Those companies include uAvionix Corp. and infrastructure inspection company Phoenix Air Unmanned, which received approval to do so on August 24th.

UPS Faces Increasing Competition in the Delivery Drone Market

UPS first received government approval to operate its drone service in 2019, becoming the first major shipping carrier to receive such approval. That same year, the FAA authorized Wing service from Alphabet—Google’s parent company—to operate commercially. In 2020, the FAA granted an “air carrier” certificate of approval to Amazon for the eCommerce giant’s own delivery drones.

The news comes a few days after Walmart announced that it struck a partnership with Wing to make deliveries in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Wing was first focused on building a drone delivery network for U.S. hospital campuses, but has since expanded to consumer deliveries. So far, Walmart has already made over 10,000 deliveries across seven states through its partners, DroneUp, Flytrex, and Zipline. Under its partnership with Wing, Walmart will now theoretically be able to deliver goods to an extra 60,000 residences.

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