FAA Grants Waiver to Matternet for Remotely Piloted Drone Operations

The drone developer Matternet can now conduct operations of up to 20 aircraft with one remote pilot at its California test site, thanks to a waiver granted by the FAA. (Photo: Matternet)

An FAA waiver was recently granted to Matternet that allows the company to operate up to 20 aircraft with a single remote pilot. The waiver only covers operations at Matternet’s test site in Pittsburg, California. 

Matternet has designed an on-demand delivery platform that integrates its M2 Drone, the Matternet Station, and its Cloud Platform. According to the company, the M2 Drone is the first delivery drone in the world to receive type certification from the FAA. Matternet also received a Production Certificate in November.

The drone developer has conducted commercial operations in Switzerland since 2017, and in the U.S. since 2019—in coordination with UPS.

Andreas Raptopoulos, Founder and CEO of Matternet, spoke with Avionics International about the FAA waiver and the company’s current efforts.

“Our focus so far has been healthcare, where we believe that we can bring tremendous benefits to healthcare systems, their diagnostics, processing, pharmacy distribution, and supply chains,” he explained. 

The M2 Drone has a payload of 4.5 pounds and a range of 12.5 miles. This covers use cases for healthcare, where most items are lightweight. As the company expands into e-commerce, a payload of 4.5 pounds will also make sense. Raptopoulos noted that 86% of shipments from Amazon weigh less than five pounds. He added that 80% of the last-mile delivery market is located in urban and suburban areas.

“Our focus is to build the smallest, safest, quietest, most precise aircraft that we can build, to serve this last-mile delivery problem. And we’re starting from healthcare, with a view to expand to e-commerce and other verticals.”

Following the FAA waiver that was recently granted, Raptopoulos commented, “We now have the ability to produce aircraft and put them into the National Airspace System. We can fly over people, we can fly over highways—the question now becomes how to reach attractive economics. And when we operate our aircraft, we are interested in operating autonomously with supervision from a remote operating center, where we run a piece of software that allows a single pilot to control multiple aircraft.”

Matternet’s test site in California is located northeast of San Francisco. Raptopoulos noted that the waiver granted by the FAA limits operations to this test site. At the site, “We really push the operational limits of our aircraft,” he shared. “You see multiple flying autonomously. We really want this aircraft to have the minimum amount of human supervision because the cost of pilots involved in the operation is a strong determinant of the overall cost of service.”

The team is focused on conducting daily missions and continuing to push the operational envelope as well as testing out new models. 


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