Zipline becomes fourth drone operator to secure FAA authorisation to fly beyond line of sight

FAA issued its fourth authorisation for commercial beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone operations to Zipline International on 18 September. Zipline is authorised to deliver commercial packages around Salt Lake City and Bentonville, Arkansas. Zipline is an FAA-certificated Part 135 operator and will use its Sparrow drone to release the payload via parachute.

Data collected from these operations will inform the FAA’s ongoing policy and rulemaking activities, says the FAA. Read the approval letters here and here.

The FAA is focused on developing standard rules to make BVLOS operations routine, scalable and economically viable. The agency chartered the Beyond Visual Line of Sight Aviation Rulemaking Committee on June 9, 2021 to provide safety recommendations to the FAA. The FAA is reviewing their final report.

The FAA’s long-term goal is to safely integrate drones into the National Airspace System rather than set aside separate airspace exclusively for drones. This approach is consistent with the FAA Modernisation and Reform Act of 2012 and the FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016. The 2016 Act directed the FAA, in conjunction with NASA, to continue developing a plan for UTM which will assist in integration efforts.

In June, the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI)  submitted comments to the Federal Register in support for BVLOS exemptions for Pheonix Air Unmanned, uAvionix, UPS Flight Forward, and Zipline, as well as comments in response to the FAA’s UAS BVLOS Request for Comment. AUVSI President and CEO Brian Wynne served on the FAA’s BVLOS Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), which submitted its report to the FAA in March 2022.

On 6 September 2023, The FAA authorised UPS Flight Forward with its Matternet M2 to conduct small package delivery, and uAvionix with its Rapace using the Vantis Network to test its detect and avoid technology.

On 24 August, the FAA authorised Phoenix Air Unmanned to operate SwissDrones SVO 50 V2 drones BVLOS for aerial work, aerial photography, survey and powerline and pipeline patrol and inspection.

In early September, the FAA granted exemptions to uAvionix and UPS Flight Forward to conduct commercial BVLOS drone operations.

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