UPS launches drone delivery firm, plans health care deliveries

PARC. Source: UPS

PARC. Source: UPS

Sandy Springs-based UPS plans to launch a drone delivery company called UPS Flight Forward Inc., with plans to expand deliveries by drone in the health care industry.

UPS said it has applied for certification from the Federal Aviation Administration for Flight Forward, and expects approval as early as this year for Part 135 certification, typically used by charter operators.

With its broad Part 135 application submitted to the FAA, UPS says it's "on track to have one of the first fully certified revenue-generating drone operations in the United States."

UPS chief transportation and strategy officer Scott Price in a written statement called the move “historic for UPS and for the drone and logistics industries, overall.”

The shipping giant said the certification would allow flights beyond line of sight, at night and with no limit to the number of drones or operators in command — and would open the door to scale up drone operations quickly in “targeted markets.”

Earlier this year, UPS began using drones to deliver medical samples across a hospital campus in Raleigh, N.C., and said Tuesday that the Part 135 certification "will pave the way for expansion of services to several other U.S. healthcare networks" that are interested in the service.

UPS said in a press release that it “intends to remain at the forefront of drone commercial aviation and the industry leader in FAA fully certified U.S. drone operation for routine flights.

The Federal Aviation Administration already authorizes specific, limited use of small drones for commercial purposes.

A UPS driver takes his truck on a delivery route, in New York. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

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Other companies in a race for the drone delivery market are Amazon and Google’s parent company Alphabet. UPS called other companies’ certifications for drone flights “more limited.”

Amazon has been designing Prime Air drones that could deliver packages to customers in less than 30 minutes. The FAA issued a special airworthiness certificate to Amazon Prime Air in June, allowing it to use its drone for research and development and crew training in authorized flight areas.

And earlier this year, the FAA awarded an air carrier certification to Alphabet’s drone delivery company Wing Aviation. The agency said the certification paved the way for Wing to make deliveries in Blacksburg, Va., and that Wing would “reach out to the local community before it begins food delivery.”

UPS called other companies’ certifications for drone flights “more limited,” and said the Part 135 designation would make it a certified air carrier and operator.

UPS has been testing the use of drones for delivery for several years. In 2016, the company partnered with drone developer Zipline for drone deliveries of vaccines or blood to patients in remote areas in Rwanda. Also that year, UPS staged a mock delivery of medicine from Beverly, Mass. to an island three miles off the Atlantic coast.

In 2017, UPS tested the delivery of a package to a home via a drone deployed from one of its brown trucks.

And this year, the company started using a drone for revenue-producing deliveries of medical samples at the WakeMed hospital campus in Raleigh, as an alternative to relying solely on courier cars.