AA clears UPS delivery drones for longer-range flights

A UPS delivery drone flying in the sky against a tree.

Image: UPS

UPS delivery drones are now allowed to fly longer distance flights beyond the sight of ground operators, the Federal Aviation Administration revealed in a press release on Wednesday. This is the kind of move that opens the door for drone delivery companies like Wing, FedEx, and Zip to deliver packages across a wider area and service more customers.

UPS Flight Forward, a UPS subsidiary focused on drone delivery, can now deliver small packages beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) without spotters on the ground monitoring the route and skies for other aircraft, using Matternet M2 drones. The FAA also announced authorizations for two other companies to fly beyond sight for commercial purposes. That includes uAvionix Corp. and, last week, infrastructure inspection company Phoenix Air Unmanned.

UPS first received government approval to operate its drone service in 2019, the same year the FAA authorized Alphabet’s Wing service to operate commercially. The company first focused on building a drone delivery network for US hospital campuses.

The news comes just a few days after Walmart announced it’s partnering with Wing to make deliveries in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. So far, Walmart has already made over 10,000 deliveries across seven states via its partners, DroneUp, Flytrex, and Zipline. The new partnership will allow the retailer to deliver to an extra 60,000 homes.

Yet not all drone delivery programs have had a smooth go of things, like Amazon’s drone delivery service Prime Air. In May, the service had only made 100 deliveries in California and Texas, the two locations it’s operating. It’s not clear what the number is now, but that’s well behind Amazon’s previous projection that it’d complete 10,000 deliveries to customers via drone by the end of 2023.

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