FAA Authorizes Zipline for Drone Delivery Beyond Visual Line of Sight

The FAA has granted authorization for Zipline to delivery packages by drone, beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) of the pilot.  The approval means that Zipline will be able to deliver packages in a wider range around their delivery points, without visual observers along the route – making commercial drone delivery at scale economically feasible.

The approval letter is available here.  The approval follows FAA statements that the agency would move forward on expanding commercial BVLOS operations in the absence of a rulemaking by working towards granting approvals in a more templated manner, based on previous authorizations.  To that end, the FAA has granted ground-breaking approvals for BVLOS operations in 3 different categories: Phoenix Air was granted permission to fly a large, unmanned helicopter; uAvionix received authorization to fly their Rapace fixed wing within the Vantis network to test detect and avoid capabilities; and UPS Flight Forward has been granted authorization for BVLOS drone delivery.

The Zipline waiver is the first granted as similar to the UPS Flight Forward authorization.  In the letter notifying Zipline of their exemption, the FAA wrote:

Zipline celebrated the announcement, stating “For more than a decade, even the most advanced long-range drone deliveries in the U.S. required visual observers, stationed on the ground along a route, to watch the sky during the delivery. This historic decision will help enable broad integration of autonomous aircraft into the U.S. national airspace and make commercial drone delivery scalable and affordable.”

…“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,” said Okeoma Moronu, Zipline’s Head of Global Aviation Regulatory Affairs. “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.”

Zipline BVLOS Drone Delivery

Zipline’s drones, which they call Zips, have completed more than 750,000 safe commercial drone deliveries BVLOS around the world.  The Zips are equipped with onboard detect and avoid (DAA) systems for real-time airspace monitoring, and Zipline has demonstrated their commitment to safety processes and operational consistency.  With the authorization, Zipline plans to begin BVLOS drone delivery in the US by the end of the year.

“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.”

Zipline’s robust safety system includes more than 500 preflight safety checks, strategic route design, and redundant flight-critical systems. Its onboard perception system uses ADS-B transponders that identify aircraft in the nearby airspace, as well as an acoustic avoidance system that uses small, lightweight microphones to detect and avoid other aircraft flying up to two miles away in all directions, including during the dark of night and in challenging weather.

The company has spent years researching, developing, and testing its onboard perception system, including tens of thousands of flight test encounters with aircraft. It is already deployed in the U.S. as well as several other countries.

Zipline BVLOS drone delivery Platform 2Zipline’s Platform 2: Delivering Medicine, Pizza, Salad and More

In addition to partnerships that continue Zipline’s long tradition in medical drone delivery, the company will also deliver commercial products from a number of retailers.

Zipline’s long-range system, Platform 1, operates on three continents and makes a delivery every 70 seconds. The company recently announced a number of new healthcare partners along with customers across the retail and food sectors. OhioHealth, Michigan Medicine, Sweetgreen, GNC, Pagliacci Pizza and more will all use Zipline’s new home delivery system, Platform 2 (P2), for ultra-precise, quiet drone delivery throughout the United States.

P2 Zips fly more than 300 feet above the ground. When the Zip arrives at its destination, it hovers safely and quietly at that altitude, while its fully autonomous delivery droid maneuvers down a tether, steers to the correct location, and gently drops off its package to areas as small as a patio table or the front steps of a home. 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 is conducting high-volume flight tests of P2 this year and will release its first P2 customer deployment next year.

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