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UPS aims high with drone delivery plans

UPS is creating a new subsidiary dedicated to drone deliveries.

The express delivery provider has applied to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for certification to operate commercial drone flights in the UPS network under a subsidiary business called UPS Flight Forward, Inc.

If approved, this certification would lay the foundation for drone flights beyond an operator’s visual line of sight, and for flights occurring day or night. Such flights are highly restricted in the U.S. and approved only by exception.

Currently, UPS operates drone healthcare deliveries in a specific use-case under other FAA rules. In March 2019, UPS initiated FAA-sanctioned use of a drone for routine revenue flights involving the transport of a product. The FAA approval was for a contractual delivery agreement at WakeMed’s flagship hospital and campus in Raleigh, N.C. In this program, the company delivers medical samples via unmanned drones, supplementing a ground courier service. UPS intends to expand its drone delivery service to other hospitals or campus settings.

“UPS is committed to using technology to transform the way we do business,” said Scott Price, UPS chief transformation and strategy officer. “UPS’s formation of a drone delivery company and application to begin regular operations under this level of certification is historic for UPS and for the drone and logistics industries.”

While UPS is currently focused on using drones for healthcare deliveries, it is quite possible the company may expand to leveraging drones to fulfill e-commerce shipments in the future. Amazon has taken a leading role in developing e-commerce drones, most recently unveiling a new, artificial intelligence-equipped drone it expects to use to deliver Prime packages to customers within months.

In addition, Uber is reportedly applying for permission to perform drone-based food deliveries in the San Diego area; and Wing Aviation, a subsidiary of Google, has reportedly received FAA certification as a small airline and will begin deliveries to consumers in Montgomery County, Virginia within the next few months.
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