Drone Delivery is Officially a Reality! UPS Becomes Part 135 Certified

Updated: May 20


Image Credit: United Parcel Service of America, Inc.

Many companies have been trying to get drone delivery off the ground for a long time. Major companies like Amazon and Alphabet have been racing to create their own drone delivery service, but it was UPS that experienced a breakthrough. UPS is a major logistics and package delivery company headquartered in Atlanta, and these past few years, they have been making great strides towards drone package delivery becoming a reality, and it’s finally paid off!

Drones have already proven themselves capable of carrying a variety of payloads, but it’s the legality of performing the service that has been the biggest concern for companies looking to take advantage. It wasn’t until the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) brought UPS and the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) together that it finally took flight.

Video Credit: United Parcel Service of America, Inc.

Starting with research and planning, then elevating to the first commercial drone delivery, UPS and NCDOT’s collaboration culminated in the new Part 135 certificate. We can now say that commercial drone delivery has officially taken flight! U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao described the decision as "a big step forward in safely integrating unmanned aircraft systems into our airspace, expanding access to healthcare in North Carolina and building on the success of the national UAS Integration Pilot Program to maintain American leadership in unmanned aviation."

UPS Flight forward, a subsidiary of UPS, announced on October 1st that they received "the U.S. government’s first full Part 135 Standard certification to operate a drone airline." As a result of the effort they put forth in the UAS Integration Pilot Program, the FAA approved a Part 135 operating certificate which allows them to commercially deliver packages via multiple drones.

Image Credit: United Parcel Service of America, Inc.

There are certificates available for four types of Part 135 operations: (1) Part 135 Single Pilot, (2) A Single Pilot in Command certificate is a limited part 135 certificate, (3) A Basic operator certificate is limited in the size and scope of their operations, and (4) A Standard operator holds a certificate with no limits on the size or scope of operations.

Now, UPS isn’t the only business with Part 135 certification. In April of this year, Wing Aviation, LLC was awarded their certification, and the FAA is looking over seven other applications submitted by IPP operators and an FAA Partnership for Safety Plan (PSP) participant. To be certified for commercial drone deliveries, they'll have to go through the five phases of the Part 135 certification process: Pre-application, Formal Application, Design Assessment, Performance Assessment, Administrative Functions. Currently, obtaining Part 135 certification is the only way a business can perform commercial drone deliveries.

Regardless, UPS is showing no signs of slowing down with several plans in the works to build on drone delivery. Their goals include expanding this service to other hospital campuses and eventually other products. They also plan to partner with drone manufacturers and hire more team members. Image Credit: United Parcel Service of America, Inc.

On October 7th, the UPS twitter account revealed that they had put together an all-female drone flight crew to be the leaders of drone flights with the UPS Flight Forward team. The members of this crew are Sherri Roberts, Candice McHargue and Caroline Furse.

I am a writer and an artist based in Georgia. Specializing in illustration, graphic design, and video art, I love to explore the new ways technology intersects with art. I think drones have done amazing things for photography and video art, making what would previously be costly and difficult more accessible. As a complete novice, it was only recently that I saw what independent artists could do with their drones, and I continue to be impressed by the sights that drones are able to explore and the images they can capture. Instagram: @tyesha.ferron

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