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For UPS and drones, blue skies ahead

Blue Sky Drone

The old adage that the sky’s the limit rings truer than ever today. For UPS and its customers, the sky is an expanding frontier for moving goods around the world. The idiom also speaks to the cutting-edge innovations we’re seeing in transportation.

Today we announced a major milestone for autonomous aviation — yet another example of UPS transforming its Global Smart Logistics Network to support customers wherever and whenever they need us.

With authorization from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — an approval known as full Part 135 Standard Certification — our Flight Forward subsidiary will operate commercial drone flights in unprecedented ways. This makes UPS the first company certified to fly an unlimited number of drones with an unlimited number of operators. The possibilities are limitless — and drones are just the start.

A new day fro drones

I believe we are on the cusp of a new era of mobility. The innovations we’re seeing in transportation — including drones, hypersonic planes and hyperloops — also will have a profound effect on supply chains and the movement of goods.

“UPS is the first company certified to fly an unlimited number of drones with an unlimited number of operators.”

The supply chain never sleeps

The day is coming when we’re no longer constrained by the current limitations of transportation and logistics. Time and distance are less restrictive in the “on-demand” economy.

Today, logistics service providers have to wait for the volume to fill a truck, plane or ship that’s large enough to cover their costs. Routing that volume through “hub and spoke” networks is much more economical — but obviously slower than moving goods point-to-point.

In the future, however, drones will make it affordable to move goods directly and in smaller lots. Spare parts, critical medicines or gifts for a loved one no longer will take days to arrive. In the future, they will arrive in hours or even minutes by drone, hyperloop, your UPS driver, an autonomous vehicle with lockers — or more likely, some combination of the above.

Supply chains will become dynamic and more predictive, using advanced analytics that anticipate your needs and move products to a nearby staging area before you even order. Goods will move in real time, too — which means the supply chain never sleeps. 

And drones are a part of this bright future.

Whether through the delivery of lifesaving snake-bite antidote, or one day, e-commerce purchases dropped on your doorstep, drones represent a new day for logistics.

And we’re just getting started.


UPS Flight Forward Attains FAA’s First Full Approval For Drone Airline.

 A not-so-distant future

In a not-so-distant future, we’ll fly drones greater distances. Drone flights previously were required to stay within an operator’s visual line of sight. With full Part 135 certification, UPS can apply to make drone flights beyond the operator’s line of sight, which will help us take drone delivery to scale.

The expansion of our drone services is the result of many years of exploration and testing, each new step fueled by an unrelenting commitment to pioneer new innovations.

What we’ve learned as serial innovators — aggressively pushing limits to do better for our customers — is innovation requires more than just logistics and engineering prowess.

It also requires an understanding of how to work with regulators on public policy issues and the right mix of knowledge, people and entrepreneurial instinct to harness technology for solving the most vexing logistical challenges of today and tomorrow.

“With full Part 135 certification, UPS can apply to make drone flights beyond the operator’s line of sight, which will help us take drone delivery to scale.”

UPS’s history with drones

UPS has been testing drones and other automation and robotics technologies for years, especially in the healthcare space.

Earlier this year, UPS partnered with drone manufacturer Matternet to launch its healthcare delivery service on the WakeMed Health & Hospitals campus in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was the first commercial daily drone service cleared by the FAA for lab specimen transport.

In the process, UPS demonstrated to healthcare companies the business case for drone delivery of medical products and specimens. The faster hospitals receive these products, the sooner healthcare professionals can serve patients — and save lives.

In 2017, we took a large leap in residential package delivery by testing a drone launched from the roof of a UPS delivery truck. We’ve also partnered with companies that use drones to deliver life-saving medical supplies in hard-to-reach locations in Rwanda and Ghana.

 Reaching our potential

Realizing the full potential of drone technology requires regulators to expand the use of delivery drones in a safe manner. We worked alongside government regulators to provide the voice of business experience as they developed these new rules. To bring about change, we must be a part of the conversation.

A senior UPS leader is among a select group of corporate advisers on the FAA’s drone advisory committee, which provides recommendations on key drone integration issues necessary for safe drone operation within the National Air Space System.

UPS is investing in ground-based, sense-and-avoid technologies to ensure drone safety while enabling future service expansion. We’re also building a centralized Operations Control Center.

Pending government approval, UPS soon will operate regular and frequent drone flights beyond the operator’s visual line of sight, and we’ll partner with drone manufacturers to build new drones with greater carrying capacities.

 “This is a new day for drone delivery — and a new day for UPS.”

A new day

Our new drone operation is in its early days. But our strategy is rooted in more than 112 years of innovation, including three decades of operating a global airline. To paraphrase UPS founder Jim Casey, it will continue to guide us as we look toward a horizon as distant as our mind’s eye wishes it to be.

This is a new day for drone delivery — and a new day for UPS.

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Longitudes explores and navigates the trends reshaping the global economy and the way we’ll live in the world of tomorrow: logistics, technology, e-commerce, trade and sustainability. Which path will you take?

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