UPS Approved To Run “Drone Airline”

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The FAA has given UPS’s Flight Forward subsidiary approval to run unmanned aerial delivery vehicles under an FAR Part 135 certificate that in turn allows it to use drones with more than 55 pounds of useful load. UPS said it will first expand drone deliveries to hospital campuses and then into other industries. UPS has already been testing delivery UAVs at the Wake Forest University’s medical center in Raleigh, North Carolina.

“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 U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.  

According to the FAA, “As a participant in the U.S. Transportation Department’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) partnered with UPS Flight Forward. As the operator, they have been engaged in delivery of healthcare supplies around a major hospital campus in Raleigh, North Carolina. The flights have focused on the delivery of blood for potentially life-saving transfusions, as well as other medical samples for lab work.”

Not only can UPS fly heavier drones, it can do so at night. There are restrictions in place for the UAVs that make them less than autonomous, however. The Associated Press reports that the “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.” UPS will “apply for FAA permission to have a single operator fly multiple drones at the same time.”

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11 COMMENTS

  1. “There are restrictions in place for the UAVs that make them less than autonomous, however. The Associated Press reports that the ‘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.’ UPS will ‘apply for FAA permission to have a single operator fly multiple drones at the same time.’ ”

    Big mistake. Remote BLOS operations are conceptually bad, even with dedicated operators. Trying to bat and pitch at the same time invites disaster.

  2. Delivering over 55 LBS to an address is best done by a pickup or a van.
    The market for delivering 55 pounds of emergency medicine has to be incredibly small, rare, and obscure.
    I don’t see a business model that makes this profitable.

    • 1. Falible humans are “in the loop.” Human limitations and variability; human consequences. There’s a reason that CNC machine tools aren’t equipped with hand-cranks.
      2. Humans require anthropomorphisized flight information; visulization. One consequence is excess software and hardware overhead.
      2. Latency. Ask military drone pilots about this.
      3. Accuracy (presuming that the payloads are something other than explosives).

      The military gets close (albeit often at high altitudes) and then uses a purposefully expendable vehicle to blow up things, using high explosives. Conceptually quite different from delivering chicken nuggets to someone’s driveway.

  3. So, how many extra batteries will have to be carried in their hot trucks to deliver a large number of packages? What about on rainy days or even snow? The driver still has to be in the area, so where is the cost savings? If the driver is that lazy – we will be glad to walk out to the truck and pickup!

  4. WakeMed is not Wake Forest University’s medical center. WakeMed is a hospital system in Wake County, North Carolina, which is where Raleigh is located. Wake Forest University, and its medical center, are in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.