The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted permission to Zipline, the world’s largest autonomous commercial delivery service, to make commercial drone deliveries beyond the visual line of sight without the previously mandated visual observers. This groundbreaking decision paves the way for broader integration of autonomous aircraft into the U.S. national airspace, marking a significant turning point for the industry.
Before this approval, even sophisticated long-range drone deliveries mandated visual observers stationed on ground routes to oversee the sky during a drone's journey. With this change, there's potential for drone delivery to become more scalable and cost-effective in the U.S.
The authorization was based on Zipline's proven onboard detect and avoid system that facilitates real-time airspace monitoring. This robust system, which has undergone rigorous testing, places Zipline in a prime position to expand its services across most of the United States.
The FAA’s decision results from Zipline's consistent safety record and the company’s longstanding collaborative relationship with the agency. Over the years, Zipline has shared comprehensive data from its autonomous flights and displayed the efficacy of its onboard perception system and safety protocols. The company plans to implement this newly acquired permission and begin flights without visual observers later this year.
Zipline's CEO and Co-founder, Keller Rinaudo Cliffton, commented on the development, saying,
“This decision allows Zipline hubs in the U.S. to exponentially increase their service range, potentially reaching millions of people and offering faster, more efficient, and environmentally-friendly delivery solutions.”
With more than 50 million autonomous miles flown and over 750,000 deliveries completed without major safety incidents, Zipline’s safety mechanisms have been validated internationally. This includes an intricate safety system that performs over 500 preflight checks, designs strategic routes, and employs redundant flight-critical systems. Their drones are also equipped with ADS-B transponders and an acoustic avoidance system to detect and sidestep other aircraft.
Okeoma Moronu, Zipline’s Head of Global Aviation Regulatory Affairs, expressed gratitude to the FAA for its decision, emphasizing the extensive safety measures Zipline has in place and the transformative potential for drone delivery.
Zipline, which began U.S. operations in 2020 during the pandemic peak by delivering medical supplies, has a long-range delivery system called Platform 1. This system operates in three continents and manages a delivery approximately every 70 seconds. Moreover, several healthcare and retail businesses, such as OhioHealth, Michigan Medicine, Sweetgreen, GNC, and Pagliacci Pizza, have recently partnered with Zipline for their new home delivery system, Platform 2 (P2). This system facilitates precise drone deliveries right to a customer's doorstep and is set to expand operations next year.
Zipline’s operations on three continents are also noteworthy for their eco-friendliness, reducing delivery emissions by 97% compared to conventional automotive deliveries.