The UPS's Flight Forward company was awarded an air carrier and operator certification for drones following the success of a pilot program in North Carolina that delivered health care supplies, including blood, with drones around a hospital campus in Raleigh.
"This is a big step forward in safely integrating unmanned aircraft systems into our airspace, expanding access to healthcare in North Carolina and building on the success of the national UAS Integration Pilot Program to maintain American leadership in unmanned aviation," Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao said in a statement.
The certification also means that UPS will be able to operate drones beyond the visual line of sight -- meaning that the drone operator will not have to keep an eye on a drone while it is delivering to its destination.
While initially used to transport medical supplies, UPS says it plans to expand its drone delivery services and uses, first to other hospitals and then to other industries as well.
"This is history in the making, and we aren’t done yet," David Abney, UPS's CEO said in a statement. "Our technology is opening doors for UPS and solving problems in unique ways for our customers. We will soon announce other steps to build out our infrastructure, expand services for healthcare customers and put drones to new uses in the future."
UPS's Flight Forward is the first program to earn the FAA's Part 135 Standard certification, giving it no limits in the "size or scope of operations," according to UPS.
While Flight Forward is the first to receive a Standard operation certificate, there are four different types of Part 135 operations. The company Wing, which is collaborating with FedEx and Walgreens on drone delivery, was the first to receive a limited Part 135 certificate.
Wing is launching operations in Virginia this month.
The Standard certification allows UPS to send an unlimited number of drones to the skies, for their cargo load to exceed 55 pounds and for them to fly at night.