The FAA authorized Zipline to deliver commercial packages around Salt Lake City, Utah, and Bentonville, Arkansas. These operations will involve drones that fly beyond a visual line of sight. (Photo: Zipline)
The Federal Aviation Administration has granted authorization to Zipline International, Inc., to initiate commercial package deliveries using drones that operate beyond the operator’s visual line of sight (BVLOS) around Salt Lake City and Bentonville, Arkansas. This decision represents a significant stride in the FAA's mission of integrating drones into the National Airspace System.
Traditionally, even the most advanced drone deliveries required visual observers placed en route to monitor the sky. However, this recent FAA authorization allows Zipline to sidestep this mandate.
Zipline announced last June that it received its Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate from the FAA, enabling the company to perform the longest range on-demand deliveries with commercial drones in the U.S. Zipline had recently unveiled its new detect-and-avoid system that uses acoustic-based technology onboard an autonomous aircraft.
According to Zipline, their onboard perception safety system, designed to ensure real-time airspace monitoring, has eliminated the need for ground observers. After having been rigorously tested over tens of thousands of real-world miles and interactions with aircraft globally, the system has demonstrated its capability to ensure the highest safety standards.
Zipline’s experience includes over 50 million commercial autonomous miles flown globally. Their drones have made significant impacts in countries like Ghana and Rwanda, delivering crucial supplies such as vaccines, food, and educational materials, particularly to hard-to-reach regions.
Beyond the immediate significance for Zipline, this authorization showcases the FAA’s commitment to evolving the landscape of drone operations in the U.S. The agency's long-term vision aims for harmonious integration, aligning with directives from the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016. These Acts underscore the development of an Uncrewed Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) plan, a collaborative initiative with NASA.
In March 2022, the UAS Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Operations Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) unveiled its final report, highlighting a detailed roadmap to support expanded UAS operations. Recognizing the many advantages of BVLOS—from safety to economic benefits—the FAA is proactively examining multiple petitions suggesting various safe operational methods.
Detect and Avoid (DAA) systems are pivotal for BVLOS operations. While numerous industry standards have been laid out for DAA systems, not all may be suited for operations at or below 400 feet above ground level (AGL). Hence, the FAA is meticulously reviewing these standards, ensuring that DAA systems meet specific requirements.
Another dimension of this evolving landscape is the increasing involvement of third-party service providers. These third-party entities, not directly controlled by the UAS manufacturer or operator, could play pivotal roles in DAA solutions, such as detecting crewed aircraft or managing command and control (C2) links for multiple operators. The FAA is exploring innovative ways to assess and recognize these components distinctly.
The FAA's endorsement of Zipline’s BVLOS operations opens the door for an era where crucial deliveries, from medicines to food, are not only faster but also more sustainable and accessible.