The drone delivery industry reached a major and key regulatory milestone last week when Matternet announced its M2 had been issued with an FAA Type certification, allowing its quadcopter to be deployed for commercial use, reports a press release. The U.S regulator has approved designs for the drone to specifically fly packages. This is the first non-military unpiloted craft in the world to be given such an accolade.

Therefore, the Matternet M2, a four-rotor copter capable of carrying a 4 lb package, is considered safe and reliable by the FAA. Winning regulatory permission for aeronautical-related designs is one of the major hurdles to overcome before the craft can operate routinely for commercial operations. “This is an important milestone in the FAA’s support for the development of innovative drone technology,” said the regulator’s release.

M2 Delivering Medical Samples to Drone Station

While other restrictions remain before package delivery by drone becomes widespread, including the need for a low-altitude air-traffic system and rules to allow automated flights, this FAA approval shows the technology is advancing and the regulator considers it to have the equivalent reliability of traditional aircraft. 

This is the first granted for a non-military unpiloted craft since drones began to be more widely used almost a decade ago. The M2 drone can only have a top speed of 45 mph and cannot fly higher than 400 ft off the ground, stipulates the FAA.

Matternet partnered with UPS in 2019 to deliver medical supplies in North Carolina and later started delivering prescriptions in Florida. The company also carried out trials in Switzerland, where it collaborated with Swiss Post to deliver lab samples and blood tests. Matternet has since announced it is taking over the Swiss Post’s drone delivery program starting next year.

Other similar companies are in hot pursuit. In May, major supermarket chain, Walmart, announced plans to expand its drone delivery network in partnership with DroneUp to cover the States of Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah and Virginia by the end of this year. Amazon Prime has also stated it is to revitalise its 2013 dream by starting trials in Lockeford, California and College Station, Texas. While Wing, the drone company owned by Google parent Alphabet, recently launched trials in parts of Texas with craft capable of carrying larger payloads.

UPS Trial

Meanwhile, the drone delivery industry should achieve a major breakthrough in 2023 when some companies are expected to be granted Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS). For example, Bobby Healy, Founder and CEO of Manna Aero, told in a recent interview that mid-next year, the company plans to operate commercially in four different European countries with another two in the pipeline. Short to medium term, once commercial certification and BVLOS is granted, this potentially massive drone delivery market, could dwarf the eVTOL industry.

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(Pics: Matternet)