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Regular Drone Deliveries Underway in Christiansburg, VA with Wing Aviation

BY Zacc Dukowitz
30 January 2020

Drone deliveries are now an everyday occurrence for the residents of Christiansburg, VA.

The Christiansburg program is the first time that Alphabet Inc.’s Wing Aviation, a drone startup that originated at Google X, has ever conducted regular drone deliveries in the U.S.

How does Wing's drone delivery service work?

Depending on who you ask, Wing’s delivery program may also be the first time any company has ever been allowed to conduct regular drone deliveries in the U.S. The truth is that there are several contenders in the race to be the very first to have a drone delivery operation up and running in the U.S., and there have been so many ‘first-of-its-kind’ waivers and permissions granted in the last year that it’s become hard to track who exactly has done what first.

But one thing is certain—drones are making deliveries every day to the residents of Christiansburg.

We’re doing [drone deliveries] in Christiansburg, near the Virginia Tech campus, on a daily basis. And I would have thought that was something that would never happen.

– Mark Blanks, Director of the Virginia Tech mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership

Details about the Christiansburg Drone Delivery Program

The drone deliveries in Christiansburg started in October of 2019 and have been going smoothly thus far.

According to recent reports, residents have taken full advantage of the drone delivery program and are receiving deliveries on a daily basis.

By delivering small packages directly to homes through the air in minutes, and making a wide range of medicine, food and other products available to customers, we will demonstrate what we expect safer, faster, cleaner local delivery to look like in the future.

– James Ryan Burgess, CEO of Wing

Wing has formed several partnerships to facilitate these deliveries.

A partnership with Walgreens allows Wing to deliver over-the-counter healthcare products and medicines, a partnership with local gift purveyor Sugar Magnolia allows for deliveries of small gift items and snacks, and a partnership with FedEx allows for deliveries of customized shipments.

[Looking to improve your drone pilots skills in Virginia? Check out our VA drone training classes now.]

wing-va-ipp
Photo credit: Wing

Here are some details about the Christiansburg drone delivery program:

  • Delivered packages weigh 3.5 pounds or less
  • Deliveries are free
  • Deliveries are being made daily
  • Deliveries usually arrive within 10 minutes of being placed
  • The majority of orders are made within 4 miles of the Wing warehouse
  • Some of the items that have been delivered include sunscreen and chocolate

Wing’s Air Carrier Certification and the UAS IPP

So how did Wing get permission to launch the Christiansburg drone program?

Wing first got its regulatory foot in the door in Virginia by participating in the Commonwealth of Virginia’s IPP, which is one of the ten programs selected to participate in the UAS Integration Pilot Program (UAS IPP). The UAS IPP is a program that was created in a partnership between the federal government and local governments to test various drone operations generally prohibited by the FAA’s Part 107 rules, like flying BVLOS or over people.

[Wondering how much the UAS IPP achieved in its first year on the regulatory front? Learn more about the accomplishments of each program here.]

Virginia Tech, which is located just fifteen minutes from Christiansburg, runs an FAA-designated drone test site, and has headed up much of the testing done for VA’s pilot program.

Wing’s delivery program in Christiansburg is a natural extension of the company’s involvement in the testing done thus far, and constitutes a new addition to Virginia’s ongoing IPP.

Wing’s Part 135 Air Carrier Certification

In April of last year, Wing was awarded the first air carrier certification ever given to a drone company via a Single Pilot Part 135 certification.

The certification recognizes Wing as an airline, in effect granting them the same certifications smaller airlines receive from the FAA and the U.S. Department of Transportation. The certification gives Wing the legal authority to drop products to customers by air—that is, to begin making commercial drone deliveries.

Since Wing was awarded its Part 135 certification, UPS subsidiary Flight Forward also received one. Unlike Wing, Flight Forward holds a Standard Part 135, which is the broadest Part 135 a company can obtain.

UPS Flight Forward Attains FAA’s First Full Approval For Drone Airline

Moving forward, the FAA has made it clear that Part 135 certification is the only way that companies will be able to secure approval for making drone deliveries.

Part 135 certification is the only path for small drones to carry the property of another for compensation beyond visual line of sight.

The FAA

Learn more about the four types of Part 135 certificates a drone company can hold, as well as the five steps of the approval process, here on the FAA’s website.

Excited to hear about a fully operational drone delivery program? Or wondering if the Christiansburg model could be used in other cities? Hop into this thread on the UAV Coach community forum to share your thoughts.

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