After six years of development and more than 70,000 test flights, Google’s drone delivery company, Wing, has been granted FAA ‘air carrier certification.’ Accordingly, it has been cleared for commercial operation delivering goods from small businesses to local homes.
And I say ‘essentially certified as an airline’ because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had to create a new program for drones. It’s called the Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program — or UAS IPP for short-ish. FAA had to create this designation in order to support the growing drone industry.
“This is an important step forward for the safe testing and integration of drones into our economy. Safety continues to be our Number One priority as this technology continues to develop and realize its full potential,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao said in a prepared statement.
It’s not giving out the certification willy-nilly, however. Wing, which started out as Google X Project, had to prove its drones were safe. It presented data to the FAA demonstrating that utilizing one of its 14-propeller drones for deliveries of up to 3.3 pounds was safer to pedestrians than making the same journey with a ground-based vehicle.
Pardon my snark, but, yeah, no kidding. If unmanned aircraft were hitting pedestrians on the ground, I’d be mighty alarmed.
Wing has been testing in Australia since 2014, and recently began limited commercial operations there. With its air carrier certification, Wing’s next step will to be run a pilot program in southwest Virginia, where it began testing in 2016. It will be recruiting businesses in Blacksburg and Christiansburg for its commercial delivery pilot program.
According to a report from the AP late last year, there are already over 110,000 commercial drones operating in the U.S. That number is said to more than quadruple by 2022. And that’s a good thing. Because, according a recent study, supplanting delivery trucks with drones could reduce greenhouse gas emissions.