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UPS gets FAA clearance to roll out a fleet of delivery drones

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave UPS the go-ahead to create a fleet of drones to deliver packages with very few limitations on Tuesday, the first time it’s given such broad permission to a delivery company.

The move essentially will allow UPS to create its own drone airline. The company’s UPS Flight Forward program now has full FAA Part 135 Standard certification to operate a fleet of drones beyond an operators’ line of sight and the ability to fly drones at night. The company’s  Matternet drones will at first be used for the delivery of medical products and specimens. 

“This is history in the making, and we aren’t done yet,” said David Abney, UPS chief executive officer, in Tuesday’s press release announcing the certification. “Our technology is opening doors for UPS and solving problems in unique ways for our customers. We will soon announce other steps to build out our infrastructure, expand services for healthcare customers and put drones to new uses in the future.”

Part 135 Standard certification from the FAA means that the drones have an unlimited size limit and an unlimited number of drone operators. The certification also allows the drones to carry packages that are more than 55 pounds. 

UPS is already refining drone delivery

The UPS Flight Forward Program has been conducting a test of healthcare delivery in Raleigh, North Carolina. The test program focused on transporting blood for transfusions and other medical samples for lab work. The certification will allow the program to expand its reach beyond its test area to other hospitals and medical campuses across the country. 

While UPS is the first company to receive full certification from the FAA, other companies are also testing drone programs. Last month, Google-owned drone delivery company Wing announced the launch of a pilot program to deliver packages for FedEx Express and Walgreens. 

In partnership with Walgreens, Wing will deliver over-the-counter medicine and other health and wellness products. Wing will work with FedEx Express to deliver certain packages in designated delivery zones for those who opt into the drone delivery program. 

Amazon has also made it known that it would like to use drones to deliver products bought on the site: in June, Amazon released a video of its Prime Air delivery drone. 

Digital Trends reached out to UPS and to the FAA to find out how drone deliveries will work in more densely populated areas, and if and when the drone deliveries will expand beyond the healthcare sector. We’ll update this story once we hear back. 

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