First Scheduled U.S. Airline Launches Drone Delivery Business

Mesa Air Group and drone pioneer Flirtey start a drone airline for food deliveries.

Mesa Air Group and aerospace tech company Flirtey announced a deal Thursday, making Mesa the first scheduled airline to launch drone delivery in the U.S.

Phoenix-based Mesa has ordered four delivery drones from Flirtey, with an option to order 500 more, according to a statement.

“Mesa is excited to partner with Flirtey to become the first scheduled airline to launch drone delivery in the U.S.,” said Mesa chairman and CEO Jonathan Ornstein in the release. “Drone delivery is a huge market and it’s here now.”

Mesa is the parent company of regional carrier Mesa Airlines and currently operates a fleet of 160 aircraft, including Boeing 737-400Fs, Bombardier CRJ-900s and Embraer E175s. The airline has roots that go back to 1982 when it began as an air shuttle service in New Mexico with one Piper Saratoga.

It currently operates more than 100 regional routes, including flights operating as American Eagle, United Express and DHL Express.

The move marks a new direction for the company as it expands to include drone deliveries of food to homes and businesses. Mesa plans to fly Flirtey’s advanced electric drone, dubbed the Flirtey Eagle.

“Flirtey is excited to partner with Mesa to operationalize our best-in-class drone delivery aircraft and autonomous software platform,” said founder and CEO Matthew Sweeny. “With Mesa’s operational excellence, we look forward to rapidly expanding drone delivery focusing on the trillion dollar last-mile food delivery market.”

Flirtey, which is based in Reno, Nevada, comes to the deal with a historic track record: In 2015, it flew the first FAA-approved drone package delivery. Carrying a small cargo of medicine, a Flirtey drone flew from Lonesome Pine Airport (KLNP), near Wise, Virginia, to a nearby medical clinic.

The next year, Flirtey performed the first FAA-approved autonomous home delivery by drone, during an experimental project with 7-Eleven in Reno.

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