UPS, uAvionix get the FAA’s BVLOS blessing

Two US companies will be flying drones far and wide after the Federal Aviation Administration granted them licences to conduct beyond visual line of sight flights.

Package delivery company UPS Flight Forward (UPSFF), a subsidiary of international parcel delivery company United Parcel Service (UPS) and uAvionix recently joined the list of other service providers in the country who got their applications approved to conduct drone operations beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS).

The approval were made in addition to the one that the aviation authority granted to Phoenix Air Unmanned at the end of August.

“The FAA authorised two more companies to operate drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS),” the FAA said on its website.

“UPS Flight Forward with its Matternet M2 can conduct small package delivery and uAvionix with its Rapace can use the Vantis Network to test its detect and avoid technology.

“On August 24 the agency authorised Phoenix Air Unmanned to operate SwissDrones SVO 50 V2 drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) for aerial work, aerial photography, survey and powerline and pipeline patrol and inspection.

The FAA issued the approvals after asking for public input on four BVLOS requests.”

UPSFF’s drone partner Matternet was naturally delighted about this news, saying in a statement that its logistics partner can now fly the Matternet M2 drone without requiring expensive Visual Observers to monitor the airspace.

“UPSFF will be able to remove Visual Observers by installing a ground-based RADAR to scan the skies for potential air traffic conflicts and alert a remote pilot in command” Matternet said in its statement. Matternet sees ground-based RADARs as a scalable approach to true BVLOS operations when used to cover a wide area and with the cost of the infrastructure shared across multiple users.”

The approvals for UPSFF are initially for their operations in North Carolina, Florida and Ohio, where the company plans to conduct BVLOS drone operations for small-package delivery using a ground-based surveillance system.

The flights will be operated from the company’s Remote Operations Center (ROC) in Kentucky, where each pilot will control up to three aircraft, a development which the drone industry considers as in improving the economics of drone delivery and supporting the expansion.

“We are thrilled by this approval from the FAA and know this will play a significant role in the scaling of drone delivery services throughout the United States,” said Andreas Raptopoulos, Founder and CEO of Matternet. “We are excited to continue our partnership with UPSFF to grow our services and enable drone delivery at scale. This is another step in our journey to make drone delivery a common part of everyday life.”

Matternet added that this authorisation was ground-breaking insofar as it will serve as a template for future exemptions which permit ground-based sensors (whether RADAR, optical, or acoustic) to be used to manage air risk for true BVLOS operations.

“This is an important moment in our company’s history and will allow us to increase scale while continuing to change the way goods are transported and delivered,” said Jim O’Sullivan, Vice President of Regulatory Strategy and Special Projects at Matternet.

“We have always known drone delivery companies can solve numerous challenges. This approval will advance the regulatory framework in a way that encourages wider drone adoption throughout the world.”

Matternet first partnered with UPSFF in 2019 to deliver medical supplies in North Carolina and Florida before building on the partnership in 2021, when UPSFF utilized Matternet M2 drones to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to the Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist medical centre in North Carolina.

Meanwhile, uAvionix – which provide safety solutions for the unmanned aviation industry – will be using its new licence to test its detect-and-avoid technology systems in North Dakota, which have been installed along the BVLOS network build by Vantis.

“The uAvionix exemption is different than the use cases in the other submissions in that it is a request for infrastructure approval,” said the company in its announcement.

“While uAvionix is the pointy end of the spear with our name on the exemption, the network infrastructure, which provides C2 and DAA capability, was put together by the Vantis team consisting of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, Thales, uAvionix, and others. uAvionix has had the privilege of serving as the UAS manufacturer and operator, and by contributing several key C2 and DAA technologies to the project.

“Vantis’ purpose is to develop and implement a commercially operational UAS BVLOS flight system throughout North Dakota and other states that can enable the UAS industry to grow. Aligned with that purpose, our collective goal with this exemption was to create the blueprint for others to follow…and we did it!”

Vantis also offered its congratulations, saying that uAvionix, with support from the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, had demonstrated to the FAA that it established adequate risk mitigations to satisfy required safety standards for the specified BVLOS operation within the national airspace system (NAS).

“Today’s precedent-setting exemption approval marks a monumental milestone for Vantis, solidifying North Dakota’s unwavering leadership in aviation and UAS innovation,” said Trevor Woods, Executive Director of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site. “It’s not just a step forward; it’s a significant advance in the evolution of UAS policy, redefining what’s possible in the skies of tomorrow.”

The federal aviation regulator said its long-term goal was to safely integrate drones into the National Airspace System rather than set aside separate airspace exclusively for drones.


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