Drone deliveries may have new masterminds and are not Amazon Prime Air, despite nearly a decade of promises. It is neither Google’s drone delivery arm Wing nor UPS’s drone unit Flight Forward.
Bay area-based ziplines could have jumped over them all. On Tuesday, the drone delivery company was certified by the FAA as a Part 135 airline. This allows for the longest commercial drone delivery in the United States. Delivery begins with a round trip of up to 26 miles from the Kannapolis hub. North Carolina.
Zipline’s certification, first issued through the FAA’s Beyond Initiative, is a program aimed at accelerating the integration of Visual Field (BVLOS) drone operations into US airspace. As a result, authentication allows you to fly beyond the operator’s field of view and over people.
This certification is broader than what FAA has ever given to drone delivery companies.
“Zipline delivers every four minutes, giving people access to the products they need, when they need it,” said Zipline CEO and co-founder Keller Rinaudo. “By earning Part 135 certification and working closely with our partners and the FAA, we have taken a step towards safe, clean, and quiet immediate delivery in communities across the United States.”
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From the North Carolina hub, Zipline will be available to healthcare partners Novant Health, Magellan Rx Management, and Cardinal Health later this month. The company has been operating in the state for several years under the Beyond program, which counts the North Carolina Transport Bureau as a participant.
According to Zipline, the service will cover an area of nearly 8,000 square miles.
Later this year, the company announced that it would begin delivering medical drones at Intermountain Healthcare, Utah. Arkansas also plans to expand its delivery service with Wal-Mart, which began construction in November with FAA Part 107 certification.
In addition to its services in the United States, Zipline has partnered with Toyota Tsusho in Rwanda and Ghana in Japan and across the country to provide over one million COVID-19 vaccines. The company recently announced expansions to Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire.
Earlier this month, Zipline announced a detection and evasion system. This solution uses acoustics rather than a set of visual tools such as cameras and sensors to identify obstacles in the path of the drone. It operates within a range of 6,500 feet and covers 360 degrees.
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Zipline is well-positioned to steal the spotlight from some of the biggest names for drone delivery, as long-haul BVLOS drone flights are permitted by FAA’s Part 135 airline certification.
In April, Google Wing launched commercial services in the suburbs of Dallas Fort Worth, the largest project to date. And last week, Amazon Prime Air made its long-awaited US debut in a small town in Lockeford, California.
Meanwhile, smaller players are also participating in the action. In March, Bay Area-based Elroy Air collaborated with FedEx on a test flight of the Chaparral drone. Meanwhile, Israeli drone company Flytrex has made many partnerships with US companies such as Brinker International, Jersey Mike’s and Unilever in recent months.
Still, nothing has the scale that Zipline has with the new certification. Drone deliveries in the United States were primarily limited to small delivery networks that span one or two towns or suburbs. However, with the longer delivery range allowed than any commercial drone service in the United States to date, Zipline was able to take things to the next level.
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