It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a Wing ‘air carrier,’ now approved by the FAA

April 25, 2019

Logistics has gone upwardly mobile: The Federal Aviation Administration has certified Wing—a subsidiary of Alphabet, the parent company of Mountain View, California-based Google—to operate as an airline, in a first for U.S. drone delivery companies, Wing reported on Medium on April 23.

Wing, which began as a Google X project, has been testing its autonomous drones in southwest Virginia and elsewhere.Now, it plans on launching its package-delivery service within months out of a Blacksburg, Virginia, work site.

“This is an important step for the FAA and the drone industry in the United States; the result of years of work to safely integrate drones into the national airspace,” the company said. We’re grateful for the vision of the administration, the Department of Transportation, and the FAA for creating the Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program (UAS IPP) to advance the drone industry in the United States.”

“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,” said Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.

Company executives said they plan to expand to other parts of Virginia and around the nation, although the timeline for that remains unclear, The Washington Post reported. Uber, UPS and other companies also are working on securing related approvals from federal officials, who have been pushing to expand drone use—even as concerns about security and privacy remain.

Wing executives said they’ll ask residents and businesses in southwestern Virginia what they want delivered, as they have in Australia, where the company received permission to expand operations. Over-the-counter medicines and food are in the mix.

“In the short term, you look at what people do every day, especially people with really busy schedules or parents with young children who have a lot of demands on their time,” Wing CEO James Ryan Burgess told the Post. “Getting what you need late at night or “a healthy meal delivered, hot and fresh, in just a few minutes, can make a pretty transformative impact in quality of life,” he said.

As for how neighbors’ quality of life might be affected by buzzing next-door deliveries, the company said its drones “are quieter than a range of noises you would experience in a suburb, but they make a unique sound that people are unlikely to be familiar with.” Wing said it is working to develop “new, quieter and lower-pitched propellers.”

Wing also has emphasized the importance of community feedback and cooperation with local authorities, the DC-based news outlet said. Before launching Wing’s commercial service in Blacksburg, home of Virginia Tech, and neighboring Christiansburg later this year, Burgess said, company executives are planning surveys and other outreach, including decidedly analog efforts such as “putting fliers in peoples’ mailboxes and even door-knocking and holding town hall meetings,” Burgess said.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

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