Zipline Drone Delivery Secures Latest BVLOS Approval in Wave of FAA Exemptions

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Drone delivery company Zipline has received FAA approval to remove visual observers (VOs) from its beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations, allowing it to complete commercial package deliveries without VOs in Salt Lake City and Bentonville, Arkansas. The approval will make Zipline’s service more scalable and affordable, potentially opening new routes for the company. Zipline’s Sparrow drone, equipped with an onboard acoustic detect-and-avoid system, will be used for the approved operations. The authorization comes with 95 different conditions, and Zipline has already conducted high-volume flight tests of its next-generation Platform 2 (P2) system, with the first customer deployment expected next year.

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Zipline, a prominent player in the drone delivery industry, has received authorization from the FAA to remove visual observers (VOs) from its beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations. This approval allows Zipline to complete commercial package deliveries without the need for VOs in Salt Lake City and Bentonville, Arkansas. The authorization, which will expire in September 2025, is expected to make Zipline’s service more scalable and affordable. By eliminating the VOs, Zipline can save costs and potentially open up new routes.

Zipline’s Sparrow drone, equipped with a parachute for package release, will be used for the approved operations. The drone is equipped with an onboard acoustic detect-and-avoid (DAA) system that continuously monitors the airspace in real time. It also uses ADS-B transponders to identify nearby aircraft. The FAA has deemed Zipline’s safety measures and systems sufficient to operate without VOs, and the exemption is seen as being “in the public interest.” This authorization is significant for the commercial drone industry and paves the way for more streamlined approvals for similar companies.

While Zipline’s authorization comes with 95 conditions, including flying below 400 feet and submitting a collision and avoidance plan, it marks a major milestone in the integration of autonomous drone delivery into the airspace. The company has proven its ability to provide critical services with a high degree of safety, delivering medical supplies and PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zipline’s next-generation drone, the Platform 2 (P2), is expected to be a game-changer in the industry. The P2 Zips will fly at an altitude of more than 300 feet and use a delivery “droid” attached to a tether to lower packages to the ground. The drones will have the capability to autonomously navigate tight spaces for precision deliveries. Zipline plans to deploy the P2 system next year.

Zipline’s success and expansion in the drone delivery market have significant implications for healthcare logistics, time-sensitive deliveries, and addressing equity gaps. With its proven track record and innovative technology, Zipline is at the forefront of revolutionizing the delivery industry with faster, more affordable, and environmentally-friendly solutions.

Fun Fact: Zipline initially launched its drone delivery operations in Rwanda in 2016, where it faced fewer regulatory barriers. Since then, it has expanded to other African countries and began servicing the United States in 2020. Zipline has flown more than 50 million commercial autonomous miles and completed three-quarter of a million deliveries without a major safety incident.

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