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Zipline’s drone delivery plans expand with key FAA exemption

The company joins the likes of UPS in being able to operate commercial drones beyond the visual line of sight.

Dive Brief:

  • Drone company Zipline can now operate commercial deliveries beyond the visual line of sight after receiving an exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration, the operator announced Sept. 18.
  • Zipline currently operates in Arkansas and Utah under part 135 — an FAA certification that enables the company to operate as an air carrier and conduct common carriage operations — and plans to start operating commercial drone deliveries without visual observers this year, a Zipline spokesperson told Supply Chain Dive.
  • “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,” CEO and Co-Founder Keller Rinaudo Cliffton said in a statement.

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Dive Insight:

Without the visual line of sight constraints, Zipline can scale the integration of autonomous aircraft in the U.S. and commercial drone deliveries, according to the release.

Zipline currently operates its long-range drone system, Platform 1, in three continents for a variety of partners.

The company recently signed a range of healthcare providers and retail and food customers like OhioHealth, Michigan Medicine, Sweetgreen, GNC, Pagliacci Pizza, and more, to use its new home delivery Platform 2 system.

“Zipline’s P2 technology enables customers to use the service as both a hub-and-spoke model that can deliver in a 10 mile service radius, and as a network in which Zips can travel up to 24 miles each way from dock to dock, expanding a business’ reach,” the company said in the release. Zipline plans to conduct high-volume flight tests of P2 this year and will release its first P2 customer deployment in 2024.

U.S. regulations make widespread drone adoption challenging due to the visual line of sight constraints — without exemptions, companies are unable to scale their delivery operations as easily.

Companies have been ambitiously executing their plans to expand their U.S. drone delivery networks. UPS was also recently granted FAA exemption to operate Matternet M2 drones beyond the visual line of sight, starting in North Carolina, Florida and Ohio.

Ireland-based drone delivery company Manna also announced plans this year to begin delivery trials in the U.S., starting in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In addition, cargo carrier Ameriflight is looking to launch healthcare and e-commerce drone deliveries and the FAA granted it approval in May to operate Matternet M2 drones.

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