Video: YouTube user Wing
The intense race for approval of commercial drone deliveries has been going on for some time now. The first company to get formal FAA approval is Project Wing, an offshoot of Google, owned by Alphabet Inc. Many large companies, as well as a few smaller players, have been chasing this honor and Wing have finally done it. This is good news for the industry as a whole as they have now cleared the way and it will make it easier for other commercial drone operators to enter this space.
Demonstrating their recent approval as a government-approved airline, Wing did a demonstration delivery in Blacksburg, Virginia. They now have full approval for commercial drone deliveries, the first US Company to achieve this approval. The approval gives them the same permissions as other small airlines with the blessing of the Department of Transportation and of course the FAA (U.S. Federal Aviation Administration).
Their current plans are to start regular deliveries of smaller items in rural parts of Virginia in the coming month. From there, they will expand and apply for permission to conduct deliveries in other areas.
James Burgess, Chief Executive Officer at Wing had the following to say, “It’s an exciting moment for us to have earned the FAA’s approval to actually run a business with our technology.” He added that it is a “pivotal moment” not only for themselves as a company but the commercial drone industry as a whole.
The approval does not give Wing free rein and there are still a number of restrictions in place. Urban areas and flying over crowds is still prohibited so this will affect where and when Wing and future operators that gain approval can conduct deliveries.
Until now, many companies have received waivers from the FAA but only for short flights or demonstrations. This is a great development and a proud achievement for Google’s Wing.
Approval, as you can imagine, was not an easy process. As with other air carries, they had to do safety hierarchies, develop detailed manuals and training routines. The DOT also insists that such permission is only granted to companies that have a majority shareholding of U.S. citizens.
According to Burgess, the FAA approval process was a lengthy one adding that it was “very rigorous and very thorough.” These feeling were echoed by many other operators that have been struggling for approval. They found the requirements challenging and stated that many of the requirement were irrelevant to commercial drone applications.
Wings recent approval will, however, make life a bit easier for other operators going forward. The process should now be a bit easier and hopefully much faster. This will be a massive boost to the industry that has been rearing to go for some time now. Wing has done the groundwork with the FAA and created a foundation on which the others can build. They have also addressed the issues that do and do not apply to drone operators.
Burgess also said that the existing FAA drone rules do not cater to the type of operation Wing intends to do. They needed to become an official air carrier in order to bypass the earlier regulations that required line of sight at all times and prohibited payment for long distance drone flights and deliveries.
Wing did their research at Virginia Tech’s Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership and intend to initially target Blacksburg and Christiansburg in Virginia. Their model will be different from many of the other contenders in the drone delivery space such as Prime Air belong to Amazon in that Wing will partner with local businesses in these areas to offer their services.
The Wing drones are hybrid combinations of a plane and a helicopter with vertical takeoff (VTOL). Deliveries are slowly lowered to the customer while the drone hovers above.
Wing VTOL delivery drone. Photographer: Charles Mostoller/Bloomberg
Burgess ended by saying that “The FAA’s approval demonstrates the rapid maturation of drone technology,” adding “It shows these devices can be value added in our communities. They can be a faster, cleaner, less expensive way to transport things while still adding to the safety of society.”
Watch this space for future developments in commercial drone deliveries.