A popular package delivery service has become the first to receive full approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to conduct drone-delivery service. With government approval, the delivery service can now operate multiple drones.

Approval for liftoff

Before the approval, UPS’ drones were only allowed to fly within a visual line of sight; however, this new FAA approval means the company can now fly drones beyond that visual line. Called Part 135 Standard certification, the highest level of certification, UPS Flight Forward will have no limits on the size or scope of its drone operations. The certificate allows UPS to fly an unlimited number of drones with an unlimited number of remote operators.  The certification also permits the drone and cargo to exceed 55 pounds and fly at night. In a testing phase before receiving full certification, UPS drones in Raleigh, North Carolina made more than 1,000 flights carrying deliveries around the WakeMed Health & Hospitals’ campus. For now, UPS says it will continue to service the health care industry, though it does have plans to expand to other industries as it builds its infrastructure. UPS’ plans include:

Expansion of the UPS Flight Forward delivery service to new hospitals and medical campuses around the country.Rapid build-out of ground-based, detect-and-avoid technologies to verify drone safety while enabling future service expansion.Construction of a centralized operations control center.Regular and frequent drone flights beyond the operator’s visual line of sight.Partnerships with additional drone manufacturers to build new drones with varying cargo capacities.Adding new services outside of the healthcare industry, including the transport of special commodities and other regulated goods.

Earlier this year, it looked like Google would be the first to get higher certification from the FAA when the agency gave Google permission to fly its drones outside of testing areas. But, because Google has not yet received the top certification UPS has, the company is only allowed to make drone deliveries in Blacksburg and Christiansburg, Virginia. Google’s allowable weight limit remains low, with a limit of a mere 3.3 pounds.