United Parcel Service announced this week that it had received a certification from the Federal Aviation Administration to use drones to deliver medical packages at campuses across the country.
The certification will allow U.P.S. to use multiple drones to deliver health care supplies within federal regulations and to fly drones beyond the visual line of sight, according to a statement from the F.A.A.
For the past year, U.P.S. has been collaborating with the F.A.A. flying drones at the WakeMed campus in Raleigh, N.C., delivering medical packages — including blood samples and tissues — to different buildings on the property, according to Scott Price, the chief strategy and transformation officer at U.P.S.
During its yearlong trial period, he said, U.P.S. flew about 1,000 single-operator drone flights at the WakeMed campus.
While U.P.S.’s drone airline, UPS Flight Forward, is currently limited by the certification to operating on medical campuses for the next couple of years, the company hopes to expand after that. “This is the first step to being able to enable deliveries to homes and rural areas,” Mr. Price said on Wednesday.
The F.A.A. certification for U.P.S.’s drone airline comes at a time when the United States is making a push to remain at the forefront of unmanned aviation, the agency said. “This is a big step forward in safely integrating unmanned aircraft systems into our airspace,” said Elaine L. Chao, the United States secretary of transportation.
So far, the F.A.A. has awarded only one other certificate to fly drones. That was granted to Wing, the drone-delivery unit of Alphabet, Google’s parent company. The two certifications are different. Wing is allowed to use only one pilot and one drone at a time, while U.P.S. is allowed to use several pilots and numerous drones simultaneously, said Tammy Jones, an F.A.A. spokeswoman.
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Currently the F.A.A. is reviewing requests or indications of intent from six other companies to conduct commercial drone operations, Ms. Jones said.
Other countries have also begun drone deliveries of vital medical supplies. Zipline distributes blood in Rwanda using drones, and Swoop Aero delivers vaccines and other medical supplies in the Pacific.
Drone deliveries have also proved to be economical for U.P.S.
“Delivery by drone is cheaper than the cost of a person driving a car,” Mr. Price said.
Amazon has been pushing to deliver packages to its millions of customers by drones for a while. In 2013 Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, said in a “60 Minutes” interview that he foresaw drone deliveries for Amazon.
Three years later Mr. Bezos announced that Amazon had made its first drone delivery to a customer, in Cambridgeshire, England.
As for U.P.S., customers in urban areas should not hold their breath for drone deliveries, Mr. Price said. “Use in urban areas,” he said, “is not clear.”
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