Zipline Becomes Fourth Company Ever to Get a Part 135 Certificate, Authorizing It to Make Drone Deliveries as an Airline

BY Zacc Dukowitz
28 June 2022

Medical drone delivery company Zipline just received a Part 135 air carrier certificate from the FAA, making it the fourth company ever to get permission to make drone deliveries as an airline.

Credit: Zipline

Zipline is the first company to receive a Part 135 as part of the BEYOND initiative, the FAA’s UAS integration program focused on BVLOS. Wing, Flight Forward, and Amazon Prime Air are the other three companies that hold Part 135s.

Prior to the Part 135 process, companies who wanted to do drone delivery had to seek waivers for flying BVLOS, over people, and over cars. The Part 135 process acknowledges drone delivery as a single operation that requires all of these types of flight, housing them under one certificate.

It’s also the only way you can do drone delivery BVLOS.

Part 135 is currently the FAA’s “only path for small drones to carry the property of another for compensation beyond visual line of sight”—so getting one is a huge deal.

Of course, other companies like Flytrex and DroneUp have found ways to conduct drone delivery within visual line of sight, and have managed to scale these operations to impressive sizes. But we wouldn’t be surprised if, over the next few years, Zipline uses this new certificate to become the largest provider of drone deliveries in the U.S.

Applying Lessons Learned Abroad to the U.S.

Zipline has thoroughly proved its ability to scale medical drone delivery operations abroad. According to the company, it “designs . . . operates the world’s largest automated, on-demand delivery service.”

That claim goes beyond just saying that Zipline has the largest drone delivery operation in the world—it has the largest automated delivery service, too, which is quite a claim to be able to make.

Credit: Zipline

In Ghana alone, Zipline has flown over 13 million miles and delivered over five million vaccines, including one million COVID-19 vaccines. And globally the company has flown over 23 million autonomous miles, and made over 325,000 commercial deliveries.

Thanks to its Part 135, Zipline will now be able to draw from this deep experience with drone delivery to expand operations within the U.S. And it sounds like they’ll have more permission to operate than any of the other three Part 135 holders.

Zipline is now authorized to complete the longest range on-demand commercial drone deliveries in the U.S., with operations covering the largest area and greatest distance of any uncrewed commercial aircraft delivery system (UAS) in the country.

– Statement from Zipline

According to Zipline, its Part 135 allows the company to fly services that are the most complex of any other drone delivery operation currently underway in the U.S., on missions that will total 26 miles roundtrip. It also authorizes them to fly over people, in controlled airspace, and BVLOS (of course).

Where Will Zipline Begin Operations?

Initially, U.S. drone deliveries will fly out of Zipline’s hub in Kannapolis, North Carolina. From that location Zipline will be able to serve an area of roughly 8,000 square miles and deliver half a ton of medical supplies a day.

Operations out of the Kannapolis facility will be made with Zipline’s healthcare partners Novant Health, Magellan Rx Management, and Cardinal Health.

Zipline says operations will begin later this month, but given that the month is almost over we assume this just means quite soon.

Credit: Zipline

The company plans to launch deliveries in both Utah in partnership with Intermountain Healthcare and Arkansas in partnership with Walmart later this year.

With the announcement about the Part 135, Zipline is making it clear that it plans to continue expanding beyond medical drone delivery and into retail. The Walmart partnership will provide deliveries of retail products and fresh food.

Now that Zipline has permission to conduct drone deliveries anywhere in the U.S. it’s sure to announce many new drone delivery programs, and many new partnerships, in the months to come.

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