The first legal delivery by an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), or “drone,” took place last Friday, July 17. In three trips over a 35-mile span, the UAS delivered 60 pounds of needed medical supplies to a health clinic located in a remote rural area of Wise County, VA.
As part of a joint venture called “Let’s Fly Wisely,” Australian startup Flirtey, NASA, Virginia Tech and a number of healthcare organizations worked together to obtain the FAA’s one-time approval of the deliveries, which were conducted under strict conditions.
The flight was part of a research effort conducting to advance the safe integration of UAS in the national airspace system (NAS), and sets a precedent for future deliveries by UAS of medical supplies, or other items, to remote or inaccessible locations, or when delivery time is of the essence.
The test flight was a special case, and did not remove the current ban on UAS deliveries, but demonstrates future use case outside of the popularized package delivery system proposed by Amazon.
Outside the U.S., DHL in Germany and GeoPost in France began testing UAS package delivery systems as last year, and the Swiss postal service is on track to test deliveries by the end of this month. Commercial use of UAS is still prohibited without specific authorization by the FAA. In February of this year the FAA proposed rules governing small UAS, those weighing less than 55 lbs., such rules expected to be implemented by late 2016.