- UPS can now operate package delivery drones beyond visual line of sight regulations, paving the way for the company to scale its drone operations, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Wednesday.
- Whereas drone operators in the U.S. need certification to make deliveries beyond the visual line of sight of a pilot or observer, the FAA granted UPS Flight Forward an exemption to replace visual observers with a ground-based surveillance system, UPS said in an emailed statement.
- The exemption applies to UPS Flight Forward's use of the Matternet M2 drone, and UPS will use the company's software to control up to three aircraft per pilot, Matternet said in a news release.
Current U.S. regulations make it difficult for drone delivery operators to scale up their services without exemptions. By removing visual line of sight constraints, UPS Flight Forward can ramp up delivery activity and improve economies of scale for the emerging transportation method.
"UPSFF states that its same-day delivery reduces exposure for high-risk demographics and reduces transit times," the FAA wrote in its granting of the exemption. "UPSFF notes that its zero emissions operations are environmentally friendly, reducing the emissions profile of our air and ground operations."
UPS Flight Forward's current operations have a remote pilot based at the takeoff point and a visual observer at the landing point, or vice versa, according to the FAA. Additional observers are located along the route if needed.
With the exemption granted, UPS will conduct flight operations at a remote operations center in Fisherville, Kentucky. Pilots based at the center will remotely operate flights in North Carolina, Florida, Ohio and potentially other states. When visual observers are needed, one will be stationed at each takeoff and landing point.
“We are thrilled by this approval from the FAA and know this will play a significant role in the scaling of drone delivery services throughout the United States,” said Andreas Raptopoulos, founder and CEO of Matternet, in a statement. “We are excited to continue our partnership with UPSFF to grow our services and enable drone delivery at scale.”
UPS Flight Forward and Matternet first partnered together in 2019 to deliver medical supplies in North Carolina and Florida, according to Matternet. They advanced the partnership further in 2021 by delivering COVID-19 vaccines to a medical center in North Carolina.