FAA gives UPS’ drone delivery efforts a big boost

A UPS delivery drone built by Matternet.

In a boost for UPS’s drone delivery ambitions, the company has been given clearance by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly its machines beyond the line of sight, meaning they can now fly greater distances to a delivery location.

Before the FAA’s approval, drone flights by the shipping giant needed someone on the ground to keep visual track of the machine as it flew through the sky to ensure safe travel.

UPS will now install a ground-based radar system to scan the skies for potential air traffic issues, with a remote pilot on hand to deal with such cases.

Andreas Raptopoulos, founder and CEO of Matternet, which supplies the M2 quadcopters used by UPS, said the FAA’s approval to fly beyond the line of sight “will play a significant role in the scaling of drone delivery services throughout the United States.” He added that “this is another step in our journey to make drone delivery a common part of everyday life.”

UPS signaled its drone ambitions in 2019 when it launched a drone subsidiary called UPS Flight Forward that was geared toward developing its air-based delivery service.

Getting permission from the FAA to fly beyond the line of sight is a breakthrough moment for the company and opens up more possibilities for its drone delivery service in the coming months and years.

Matternet first partnered with UPS in 2019 to deliver medical supplies to locations in Florida before building on the partnership in 2021, when UPS deployed its M2 drones to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to a medical center in North Carolina. It’s also trialed deliveries of prescription medicines from CVS Health to residents of a retirement community in Florida.

This week’s news comes a few weeks after drone delivery specialist Wing announced a partnership with Walmart for drone deliveries in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The machines can fly to customers located up to six miles from the store, with the service aiming to drop off items — including quick meals, groceries, household essentials, and over-the-counter medicines — within 30 minutes of the order’s placement.

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