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UPS receives approval to fly commercial drones – Axios

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The big picture: Unmanned aerial vehicles have the potential to transform our daily lives, but not until regulators can be sure they won’t fall from the sky or crash into other aircraft.

  • The Trump administration has taken steps to try to speed up the rollout of drone technology, including a series of pilot projects to demonstrate how they could be operated safely.
  • UPS’ approval comes after the company had already made 1,100 medical sample deliveries at a Raleigh, N.C., hospital under one such pilot program.

Details: The certification deems UPS’ drones safe for flight, but individual flight paths and use cases must be approved.

  • Importantly, the drones can fly beyond a pilot’s visual line of sight, which hasn’t been allowed until now.
  • It also lets UPS drones fly at night and carry cargo that weighs more than 55 pounds.
  • UPS said it will start by setting up a fleet of unmanned aircraft to deliver health supplies within medical campuses and eventually expand to deliver consumer packages in a few years.
  • “It just gives us a lot of capabilities,” CEO David Abney told the Wall Street Journal. “We’re going to move ahead quickly and expand rapidly,” he said. “It’s not going to be a small operation.”
  • Within months, Abney said UPS could be using drones in 100 or more hospital complexes.
  • The business case for drones is compelling, UPS tells Axios, because it replaces the need to contract with more costly same-day couriers.
  • And customers like hospitals see value in fast drone delivery of lab specimens, for example, so they’re willing to pay more for the service, UPS says.

Yes, but: Significant regulatory hurdles remain for UPS and other companies, including Amazon and Uber, that hope to win approval for their own drone fleets.

  • Drones may not fly over urban areas under current FAA rules.
  • FAA needs to define standards that would let authorities remotely identify drones.

The bottom line: Almost 6 years ago, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ pronouncement that drones would deliver packages to your door seemed like a silly pipe dream. Now, it appears to be taking off.

Go deeper: Sky-high hopes for drones tethered to safety concerns

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