Drone delivery company Wing Aviation has won the right to operate as an airline in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced.
Certification comes hot on the heels of it securing Australian approval for remotely operated commercial package deliveries in Canberra.
The approvals are a first in both countries for Wing’s owner, Google parent Alphabet. It started the drone testing as a Google X project.
Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) certified the company earlier in April for food and non-prescription medicines delivery to homes in northern Canberra, following an 18-month trial of the remotely piloted aircraft delivering parcels to 3,000 homes.
“This is an important step forward for the safe testing and integration of drones into our economy, said US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao following the FAA approval.
“Safety continues to be our number one priority as this technology continues to develop and realise its full potential.”
The FAA said it based certification for Wing Aviation on data and documentation, as well as thousands of safe flights conducted in Australia over the past few years.
Wing said it planned to reach out to the local community for feedback about future operations before starting deliveries in Blacksburg, Virginia. The company tested its delivery system in the area by dropping packages on customers’ lawns.
It has partnered with the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership as a participant in the US Transportation Department’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program.
Wing uses electric drones powered by 14 top-mounted propellers capable of carrying loads of up to 1.5kg.
Google rival Amazon is also gearing up to introduce its Prime Air unmanned delivery system in competition with Wing.
The FAA has been working actively for several years in the drone arena as applications for their use expand.
New Zealand unmanned aircraft manufacturer, Altus Intelligence, for instance, was the first company to get a FAA waiver for a helicopter drone to make power line inspections for a client in 2017 after opening a US office in Cartersville.
Altus also partnered with CNN for aerial news-gathering as one of three FAA Pathfinder projects, evaluating unmanned aircraft systems for safety and functionality in the field, particularly loss of line-of-sight control and ranges up to 200km. The Pathfinder project is ongoing.
The July 2018 edition of Australian Aviation has an in-depth look at commercial drone operations in New Zealand. The story, written by Denise McNabb, can be read here.