FAA Grants Zipline Authorization For BVLOS Drone Deliveries


The FAA has authorized drone delivery and logistics company Zipline to make commercial deliveries using drones flying beyond the operator’s line of sight. According to the agency, Zipline will use its Sparrow drone, which releases payloads via parachute and is capable of traveling up to 120 miles, for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations. Zipline received FAA Part 135 approval for long-range drone delivery in the U.S. in 2022.

“For more than a decade, even the most advanced long-range drone deliveries in the U.S. required visual observers, stationed on the ground along a route, to watch the sky during the delivery,” Zipline said. “This historic decision will help enable broad integration of autonomous aircraft into the U.S. national airspace and make commercial drone delivery scalable and affordable.”

Zipline noted that its delivery drones are equipped with an onboard perception system that “uses ADS-B transponders that identify aircraft in the nearby airspace, as well as an acoustic avoidance system that uses small, lightweight microphones to detect and avoid other aircraft flying up to two miles away in all directions.” The company reports that it has completed over 700,000 deliveries to customers and flown 50 million autonomous commercial miles with its drone platforms to date. In addition to the U.S., Zipline operates in Rwanda, Ghana, Nigeria, Japan, Kenya and Côte D’Ivoire.

For a closer look at Zipline’s medical delivery operations in Rwanda check out www.avweb.com/multimedia/votw/drone-deliveries-saving-lives-in-rwanda.

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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    • Probably not – more likely for now would be the business model that they started with, remote medical deliveries to locations with a designated drop zone. (They can nail a 16 foot diameter circle).

    • Those pesky gliders! No ADS-B, no radio, no GPS. They’ll sneak up on the unsuspecting drone or piloted aircraft with no warning.

      • These things need to have strobes and lights and sound generators and blaring ADS-B-out; anything that makes then easier to avoid. We need BOTH sides to be able to avoid accidents, I don’t want to put all my “trust” in that unseen undetectable things will do all the avoiding.

    • Attended an airshow at night once and a highlight was a glider demo. However far back the spectators were from the flight line and then to the runway, I dunno. But I could easily hear the glider overhead the runway.

      Throw in some audio sampling, filters and differential microphones I wouldn’t doubt you could hear it before you could see it.

      What you gotta watch out for, are owls. Those things are remarkably silent in flight. I’ve been swooped twice, probably no more than 5 feet away. Didn’t hear a thing.

  1. So, people who are too infirmed to be able to drive will need to go outside and search for air drops hanging in the trees? That’s just mean.

  2. “. . . uses small, lightweight microphones to detect and avoid other aircraft flying up to two miles away in all directions.”

    There are a lot of audio companies that would like to know that the laws of physics have been rewritten.

  3. I have seen a documentary on this exact drone system and it is pretty impressive. The drones very accurately hit the drop zone with medical supplies in a remote part of the world. That being said that remote part of the world does not have the number of aircraft in its airspace.

  4. Their Rwanda-style medical deliveries, working with often difficult to reach destinations which can have pre-established delivery points to accommodate the somewhat less than pinpoint accuracy of parachute deliveries, seem like the ideal niche for such a system.

    Not sure there’s that much application for this sort of operation here in America given our well-established & virtually universal ground transport network for random-destination deliveries, but having the operational authorization at least opens the door for practical field experimentation.

    • For individual deliveries – especially in urban areas – their EVTOL model would be the likely candidate. It hovers fairly high over the target and lowers a cargo pod (the ‘droid’) from its belly. The droid sports a shrouded propeller and some sort of steering mechanism which allows it to hit your doormat (or balcony?) from a hundred feet overhead. Clamshell doors on its belly open to drop up to eight pounds of cargo.

  5. Yep, that is an historic decision. It certainly “sounds” like Zipline has made an effort to “hear&avoid” other (human-carrying) aircraft, but my helicopter at 500’agl doesn’t make much noise head-on, and a glider, zero. The FAA, under pressure from such commercial interests is fast-tracking the licensing of uncontrolled (BVLOS) flying mines.

    I’m a reluctant guinea-pig, and the only question is will I get hit by a fixed-wing or multi-rotor drone carrying late-night infomercial products or a pizza. You know that “critical medical supplies” will be ‘way on down the list of cargo.

    • “ but my helicopter at 500’agl doesn’t make much noise head-on, and a glider, zero.”

      Zero glider noise? Really? Not even a teensy tiny little bit?

      My bet, is these systems are orders of magnitude greater at detecting, calculating, determining, reacting and avoiding than your typical GA pilot.

    • The company seems to be hell-bent on safety and redundancy, with the Hear & Avoid system being only part of their accident avoidance suite. I suspect more traditional techniques such as cameras are also deployed.

      [I read somewhere that all of their Rwandan flights are monitored by someone at their base, with direct links to the Rwandan ATC.]

  6. To comment on the worry about glider operations: if the glider is at 500’ and not near an airport, they have other problems!
    A logical assumption would be that the drone operations avoid airport environs. These people aren’t stupid.

    • For what its worth, off airport landings aren’t all that uncommon for gliders. It’s not considered an emergency.

  7. I also saw the documentary, and the people shown seemed to be very mission focused, and not the self important, “we’re the smartest and most important” crowd that you often see in start ups.

  8. Insurance costs are running actual pilots out of the air, so what are the insurance costs for a kid setting in a windowless van 10 miles from the drone playing on his iPhone while the drone heads off to wherever to drop the pizza.