FAA certifies Zipline to operate US drone deliveries as an airline

Zipline FAA drone deliveries

Groundbreaking instant logistics company Zipline has received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Part 135 air carrier certification, which not only permits the company to operate its drone deliveries in the US as a commercial airline, but also fly its automated missions in beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) mode.

Zipline said the FAA certification permits it to operate the longest range on-demand commercial drone deliveries in the US, and cover the largest area in the nation by a UAV service provider. Moreover, with the Part 135 certification having been issued under the FAA’s Beyond program, that US activity will largely be carried out as BVLOS missions.

The company will initially fly drone deliveries of up to 26 miles roundtrip out of an operational hub in Kannapolis, North Carolina – a state whose Department of Transportation Zipline has been working with under the FAA’s BVLOS development program. The location will allow it to serve people within a nearly 8,000-square-mile area, and deliver half a ton of supplies each day. That activity will kick off in a continuing partnership with Novant Health, Magellan Rx Management, and Cardinal Health.

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Wasting no time, Zipline says the facility will begin operation later this month, and – under the FAA authorization – will involve flights through Class D airspace of up to 2,500 feet in proximity to small airports.

While hailed as a milestone for the entire drone delivery sector, Zipline says the FAA’s certification was also essential to it being able to scale its US operations to satisfy increasing demand from an ever wider geographical area.

“Zipline’s sustainable instant delivery system is transforming healthcare and retail,” said Keller Rinaudo, Zipline cofounder and CEO. “Today, on average, Zipline makes a delivery every four minutes – ensuring people get access to the products they need, the moment they need them. With our part 135 certification, and in close collaboration with our partners and the FAA, we are one step closer to making safe, clean and quiet instant delivery a reality for communities across the US.”

In addition to drone deliveries in North Carolina, Zipline also plans on using its new FAA certification to expand its operation in Utah with Intermountain Healthcare later this year. It will also increase its flight activity with Walmart in Arkansas, which launched last November. 

Receipt of the FAA’s Part 135 certification represents another major advance for Zipline, whose drone delivery work has been rapidly growing – and earning plaudits – across Africa, in the US, and Asia. 

Zipline says it has delivered over one million COVID-19 vaccines in Ghana, as well as medical supplies transport activity in Rwanda, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Kenya. In April it announced an operation to bring healthcare products to islands in Japan with partner Toyota Tsusho Corporation. 

Read moreZipline details the rollout of its drone delivery operation in Japan 

Even prior to its link-up with Walmart in Arkansas, Zipline had been active in the US flying medical supplies to remote areas of North Carolina to help them battle spikes in the COVID-19 pandemic. All told, the company says it has flown over 23 million autonomous miles – many in BVLOS mode – and completed more than 325,000 commercial drone deliveries.

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