United Parcel Service announced this week that it had received a certification from the Federal Aviation Administration for using drones to deliver medical packages on campus across the country.
The certification will allow U.P.S. to use multiple drones to provide federal health services and to fly drones beyond the visual line, according to a statement from the F.A.A.
For the past year, U.P.S. has partnered with the F.A.A. flying drones on the WakeMed campus in Raleigh, NC, delivering medical packages – including blood tests and tissues – to various buildings on the property, according to Scott Price chief strategy and transformation officer at UPS
While UPS's drone airline, UPS Flight Forward, is currently limited by certification to operate on the medical campus over the next couple of years, the company is hoping to expand after that. "This is the first step in enabling deliveries to homes and rural areas," Mr. Price said Wednesday.
F.A.. certification for U.P.S.'s drone airline comes at a time when the United States is putting pressure to stay ahead of unmanned aviation, the agency said. "This is a big step forward to safely integrate unmanned aerial systems into our airspace," said Elaine L. Chao, United States Transportation Secretary.
So far, the F.A.A. has awarded just one other certificate for flying drones. This was given to Wing, the drone delivery unit of Alphabet, Google's parent company. The two certifications are different. Wing is allowed to use only one pilot and one drone at a time, while the U.P.S. get to use multiple pilots and many drones at once, said Tammy Jones, an F.A.A. spokeswoman.
Currently F.A.A. reviewing requests or indications of intentions from six other companies to conduct commercial drone operation, Jones said.
Other countries have also begun to deliver essential medical supplies. Zipline distributes blood in Rwanda using drones, and Swoop Aero supplies vaccines and other medical supplies in the Pacific.
Drone deliveries have also proven to be economical for U.P.S.
"Delivery with a drone is cheaper than the cost of a person driving a car," Mr. Price said.
Amazon has been pushing to deliver packages to its millions of drone customers for a while. In 2013, in a " 60 Minutes" interview, Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, said he predicted drone deliveries to Amazon.
Three years later Mr. Bezos announced that Amazon had made its first drone delivery to a customer in Cambridgeshire, England.
As for the U.P.S., customers in urban areas should not hold their breath for drone deliveries, Mr. Price said. "Use in urban areas," he said, "is not clear."