Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on FreightWaves.com.
Cargo airline Ameriflight said Tuesday it received approval from the FAA to operate drones, making it the first existing Part 135 cargo airline—carriers that operate under nonscheduled air service—to receive such an exemption.
The newly granted exemption allows Ameriflight to conduct unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operations under its current Part 119 air carrier certificate for Part 135 operations. The company also said that regulators approved the addition of the Matternet M2 to Ameriflight’s fleet, enabling the launch of the first fully operational, large-scale drone operation in the U.S.
Through its partnership with Matternet, Ameriflight intends to operate the Matternet M2 drone for commercial delivery, focusing on health care and e-commerce deliveries to customers located in dense urban and suburban environments across the country. Ameriflight will deploy the M2 fleet of drones using Matternet’s software platform from a central remote network operations center, allowing the company to safely expand its network while maintaining the highest level of pilot operator supervision and flexibility.
Ameriflight intends to operate its uncrewed aircraft as a supplement to its crewed operations, not replacing the current flying operation, aircraft, or pilots.
“Adding this state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly aircraft and launching our UAS division allows us to expand our service offerings to off-airport alternative sites for time-sensitive small package needs,” said Ameriflight president and CEO Alan Rusinowitz. “We’re looking forward to launching our first M2 flights very soon, and, as we move forward into future flight, developing additional areas of drone delivery.”
Medical samples and small batch pharmaceuticals will be the initial cargo for the M2. In addition to health care, Matternet is expanding into e-commerce, where drone delivery can enable ultra-fast delivery of small packages.
“The approval to add drones to our operation positions Ameriflight, once again, at the forefront of innovation in the aviation industry. Moving forward with the future of our newly operative UAS division allows us to expand into a largely untapped delivery market with a lot of room for speed and safety logistic improvements,” said Ameriflight owner and chairman Jim Martell.
“This partnership enables us to offer our customers turnkey access to fast and reliable on-demand delivery capabilities today. This is not a test program or a future deployment concept—this is the real, scalable, and safe drone-based solution that customers are looking for,” said Andreas Raptopoulos, co-founder and CEO of Matternet.
For more coverage on cargo drones, go to FreightWaves.