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UPS Launches Drone Delivery Subsidiary UPS Flight Forward, Inc.

BY Zacc Dukowitz
31 July 2019

UPS recently launched a company focused on drone deliveries called UPS Flight Forward, Inc., saying that they are “laying the foundation” for a sustainable drone delivery business.

Photo credit: UPS

Although UPS still needs FAA approval to begin regular drone deliveries, they are confident they will obtain it and be able to launch relatively soon.

Flight Forward to Target Healthcare Companies

In an effort to offset the losses they’re facing in the highly competitive consumer/residential e-commerce delivery space, Flight Forward will focus on specialty deliveries in healthcare.

Along with partner Matternet, UPS is already conducting regular medical drone deliveries on the WakeMed hospital campus in Raleigh, North Carolina.

These deliveries primarily consist of tissue and blood samples.

According to UPS, the WakeMed deliveries are first-of-their-kind. While the FAA has allowed drone deliveries on a case by case basis, either for tests or for the purposes of demonstration, they have never allowed drones to make routine commercial package deliveries, also known as “revenue flights.”

It’s an historic moment because this is the first FAA-sanctioned use of a (drone) for routine revenue-generating flights.

– Bala Ganesh, Vice President of UPS’ Advanced Technology Group

UPS makes first drone deliveries at NC's WakeMed hospitals

UPS and the UAS IPP

The medical delivery program at WakeMed is the result of testing conducted by UPS and Matternet in August of 2018 as part of their participation in the UAS Integration Pilot Program (UAS IPP).

The UAS IPP is a federal program created to test drone operations otherwise prohibited by the FAA’s Part 107 rules, such as flights over people or flying BVLOS.

Photo credit: UPS

You might be surprised to learn that Amazon and DJI did not win spots in the UAS IPP. However, Amazon does have representation in the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee (DAC), along with competitors UPS and Alphabet’s Wing.

[See what the UAS IPP accomplished in its first year.]

Drone Delivery Competition Heating Up

The last few months have seen considerable progress on the drone delivery front, as well as lots of drone delivery headlines.

Walmart, Amazon Prime Air, Alphabet’s Wing, Uber, Zipline, and Matternet have all been in the news with some kind of progress on the drone delivery front within the last four months.

Here are some of the biggest drone delivery stories from recent months:

Right now it’s still unclear which companies will edge out in front when it comes to cornering drone deliveries, if any.

As far as we know, most of the companies in the stories listed above—Walmart, Uber, and Amazon, as well as UPS when it comes to expanding their operations—are still awaiting official FAA approval of their drone delivery operations. So although they’ve made headlines, they aren’t yet making regular deliveries.

But we’ve definitely come a long way since the end of 2018, when progress on the consumer drone delivery front had seriously flagged. It will be interesting to see which companies, if any, actually begin regular drone deliveries over the next year.

Who do you think will end up on top in drone delivery, and which companies will be first to get FAA approval for their delivery operations? Hop into this thread on the UAV Coach community forum to share your thoughts.

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