Drone delivery: the approach in the USA is to comply with the certification framework in place for manned aviation for an airline, but with some exemptions, rather than start from the drone-specific regulation and build on it to tackle more challenging operations such as beyond visual line of sight.
No doubt that UPS Flight Forward benefitted from the experience of its sister company UPS Airlines, a wholly-owned subsidiary of UPS and the third-largest cargo airline.
The FAA’s Part 135 Standard certification has no limits on the size or scope of operations. UPS Flight Forward’s certificate permits the company to fly an unlimited number of drones with an unlimited number of remote operators in command. It also permits the drone and cargo to exceed 55 pounds and fly at night, previous restrictions governing earlier UPS flights.
Even with this certification, UPS needs approval from the FAA before it flies a drone beyond visual line of sight. The FAA allowed it to do so for its first post-approval flight, making it the first “regular revenue-generating delivery” past the line of sight of the operator in the country. UPS has conducted a total of about 1,000 flights, for a charge, at the Raleigh campus in North Carolina.
Earlier this year, the FAA granted a similar, but more limited, certification to Alphabet subsidiary Wing. Amazon Prime Air recently applied for an FAA exemption so it could make commercial drone deliveries.
Link to UPS press release: