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wing drone delivery

Google-backed company granted first US licence for drone deliveries

Image credit: wing

Wing Aviation, which started out as a Google X project, has been granted the first licence to make deliveries by drone in the US.

The licence from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will initially only let the company operate in parts of Virginia, but it represents a step forward for an industry keen to make drone deliveries a commonplace activity.

“Air Carrier Certification means that we can begin a commercial service delivering goods from local businesses to homes in the United States,” said Wing in a statement.

Numerous companies have already carried out test deliveries in the UK and the US including the likes of Amazon, UPS and DHL.

Concerns over how the small aircraft will interact with planes and buildings have led to a cautious regulatory approach.

Wing plans to begin commercial deliveries later this year in Virginia after it met the FAA’s safety requirements to launch a pilot programme.

“This is an important step forward for the safe testing and integration of drones into our economy,” said Elaine Chao, US transportation secretary.

Wing plans to spend the next few months demonstrating its technology and answering questions from people and businesses in Blacksburg and Christiansburg, Virginia.

It said that to win FAA certification it had to show that one of its drone deliveries would pose less risk to pedestrians than the same trip made in a car.

The company said its drones have flown more than 70,000 test flights and made more than 3,000 deliveries to customers in Australia.

Wing is also touting many benefits from deliveries by electric drones: it says that medicine and food can be delivered faster; that drones will be especially helpful to consumers who need help getting around, and that they can reduce traffic and emissions.

Drone usage in the US has grown rapidly in some industries, such as utilities, pipelines and agriculture.

They have faced more obstacles around delivering retail packages and food because of federal regulations that bar most flights over crowds of people and beyond sight of the operator without a waiver from the FAA.

The federal government recently estimated that about 110,000 commercial drones were operating in the US, with that number expected to rise to around 450,000 in 2022.

In 2017, a University of Washington study has found that delivering packages with drones could reduce carbon dioxide emissions in certain circumstances compared with traditional truck deliveries. 

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