The FAA has authorized Zipline International, Inc. to deliver commercial packages around Salt Lake City and Bentonville, Arkansas using drones that fly beyond the operator’s visual line of sight (BVLOS).

Part 135 operator Zipline uses its Sparrow drone to drop cargo packages via parachute and this FAA approval will enable the longest range drone delivery flights that the United States has ever seen. Data collected from these operations will inform the FAA’s ongoing policy and rulemaking activities. 

“Today we use 4,000 pound gas combustion vehicles driven by humans to do billions of deliveries across the country. It’s expensive, slow and bad for the environment. This decision means that we can start to transition delivery to solutions that are 10x as fast, less expensive, and zero emission,” said Keller Rinaudo Cliffton, CEO and co-founder of Zipline. “It means that Zipline hubs across the country can now go from serving a few thousand homes to serving hundreds of thousands of homes each year and millions of people, which will save time, money and even lives.” 

Related: NASA Signs Space Act Agreement with Zipline

Okeoma Moronu, Zipline’s head of Global Aviation Regulatory Affairs, said: “We applaud the FAA for taking a major step to integrate autonomous drone delivery into the airspace. This will enable more commerce, new economic opportunities and greater access for millions of Americans. The FAA has incredibly high safety standards and it’s a testament to the entire Zipline team that our delivery drones are entrusted to fly and deliver at scale, over populated areas, in the most complex airspace in the world.” 

Meanwhile, The FAA is focused on developing standard rules to make BVLOS operations routine, scalable and economically viable. The agency chartered the Beyond Visual Line of Sight Aviation Rulemaking Committee on June 9, 2021 to provide safety recommendations to the FAA. The FAA’s long-term goal is to safely integrate drones into the National Airspace System rather than set aside separate airspace exclusively for drones.

Why it’s important:

The FAA’s role in enabling BVLOS operations is pivotal to the future of not only small-scale drone delivery operations, but also passenger urban air mobility. By embracing and regulating this technology, the FAA is paving the way for safer, more efficient, and sustainable urban transportation. The benefits are clear: improved safety, reduced congestion, economic growth, greater accessibility, and a leading position on the global stage.

As we look to the future, it is evident that BVLOS operations are not just a regulatory necessity but a key enabler for the realization of UAM’s potential, promising a brighter and more connected urban landscape for generations to come. While some eVTOL aerial mobility manufacturers and operators are currently pursuing onboard pilot aircraft configurations, it’s inevitable that future variants will converge on mostly autonomous or remotely-piloted operation.

Posted by Naish Gaubatz