UPS lands broad FAA approval for drone deliveries

The race is on for Amazon, Uber and Google drones.

Rae Hodge Former senior editor
Rae Hodge was a senior editor at CNET. She led CNET's coverage of privacy and cybersecurity tools from July 2019 to January 2023. As a data-driven investigative journalist on the software and services team, she reviewed VPNs, password managers, antivirus software, anti-surveillance methods and ethics in tech. Prior to joining CNET in 2019, Rae spent nearly a decade covering politics and protests for the AP, NPR, the BBC and other local and international outlets.
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UPS' drone fleet, Flight Forward, could be delivering near you soon.  


UPS said Tuesday that it's expanding its drone delivery service after it received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate a drone airline. UPS subsidiary Flight Forward was awarded a Part 135 Standard certification on Friday, which the company called an aviation first. 

UPS' first approved flight, operated under its Flight Forward subsidiary, was launched at the WakeMed hospital campus in Raleigh, North Carolina. Flight Forward is focused on delivering lab samples and other medical supplies by drone across major US hospital campuses. UPS has also tested drones for urgent commercial deliveries over water and developed a drone that can make residential deliveries by launching from a UPS truck.

"The Flight Forward organization is building a full-scale drone operation based on the rigorous reliability, safety and control requirements of the FAA," said UPS CEO David Abney in a release.

The FAA's Part 135 Standard certification, which allows the company to perform revenue-generating drone deliveries within federal regulations, has no limits on the size or scope of operations of the drone fleet, nor on the number of operators. It allows Flight Forward's drones to fly beyond visual line of sight. 

Watch this: Amazon's drones and robots want to take over your deliveries

No other company has yet attained this certification, but the field is crowded with eager competitors. Amazon was granted a patent for surveillance drones this year. Uber also made its first foray into drone delivery this year when it announced its negotiations with the FAA. Google toyed with delivering burritos for Chipotle during its testing phase, but its Alphabet-owned sister company, Wing, may be the closest to launch after partnering with FedEx and Walgreens for home deliveries this month.

"This is a big step forward in safely integrating unmanned aircraft systems into our airspace, expanding access to healthcare in North Carolina and building on the success of the national UAS Integration Pilot Program to maintain American leadership in unmanned aviation," said Elaine Chao, US secretary of transportation, in a press release.

Originally published Oct. 1, 11:37 a.m. PT.
Update, Oct. 3: Adds comment from US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.

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