drone delivery

Drone Delivery for Consumer Goods

FAA Clears Drone Operator to Fly Beyond Line-of-Sight, Over People for Drone Delivery

In a move that highlights efforts by the commercial drone industry and the FAA to capitalize on overseas momentum for drone deliveries, the FAA has authorized Alphabet Inc.'s Wing Aviation unit, a sister unit of search engine Google, to operate a fleet of drones for consumer-goods deliveries. The FAA's authorization approves the operation of drones beyond line-of-sight, and over people, and is likely to jumpstart various companies' commercial drone services nationwide.

Updated FAA Part 107 Regulations

Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations currently imposes a number of limitations on commercial drone operations. A drone operator must always have its drone within sight, either of the remote pilot or a visual observer. The drone can't be flown over anyone not directly involved in its operation, not under a covered structure, or not inside a stationary vehicle. And the drone can't be flown at night without a special permit.

The FAA's approval removes these roadblocks, a regulatory coup for Wing in a rapidly developing, fiercely competitive industry. By granting its approval, the FAA is signaling its determination to approve drone air-carrier certification before a full revamp of Part 107’s restrictions is in place.

Alphabet Inc. Drone Delivery

The FAA based its approval on data that Wing had accumulated from experience gained in Australia, where after thousands of test flights, Wing received approval to start limited commercial services. According to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, “This is an important step forward for the safe testing and integration of drones into our economy."

For now, Alphabet Inc.'s Wing will operate its drone delivery fleet only in the rural areas around Blacksburg, Virginia. Wing developed a hybrid drone that takes off like a helicopter but also flies like an airplane with separate engines. The FAA approval permits Wing to operate like a traditional small charter or cargo carrier, featuring specific pilot training, approved safety systems, collection of incident data and maintenance programs.

Future Federal Aviation Regulations

In January, the FAA proposed rules that would allow drones to operate over populated areas and end a requirement for special permits for night use. The FAA is also considering moving ahead with additional rules in response to public safety and national security concerns as it works to integrate drones with airplane traffic.

The significance of the FAA’s actions can be seen in the FAA’s Aerospace Forecast for fiscal years 2019 to 2039, in which it highlights the phenomenal growth of drones. The FAA projects the commercial, small non-model drone fleet to nearly triple from 277,386 in 2018 to 835,211 in 2023, an average annual growth rate of 24.7 percent. This dwarfs the projected growth in other aviation categories, and nearly doubles previous FAA projections for commercial drone growth.

With the development of new drone deployable technologies such as active see and avoid systems that allow drones to execute autonomous maneuvers to de-conflict with other traffic, and the FAA’s willingness to authorize beyond line-of-sight flight, drones will assume an ever-increasing role in commercial air operations. Expect to see more drone operations like Wing’s in the near future.

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