Wing, the aerial delivery venture spun out of Google, has become the first US drone operator to receive federal clearance as an airline— meaning it can start legally dropping packages on people’s front doorsteps in the states.
Before news of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) approval — which was first reported by Bloomberg on Tuesday — Wing had only been cleared to carry out its commercial delivery services in Australia, where it’s been testing since 2014.
Receiving the Air Carrier Certification from the FAA means Wing can begin charging customers for the contents of the deliveries — something that drone companies are not allowed to do for deliveries that extend beyond the line of sight of the operator, according to the Bloomberg report. The status change also means Wing can operate its drones over crowds and in urban areas, according to the report, which makes the certification even more valuable.
Other companies like Uber and UPS are vying for the same approval, according to a Washington Post report.
Wing’s permissions will start in the state of Virginia and can extend across the US over time with approvals. A company spokesperson told Business Insider on Tuesday that Wing would first start in the southwestern cities of Blacksburg and Christiansburg, where it hopes to launch later this year.
In Australia, Wing drones have delivered everything from burritos to coffees to over-the-counter medications. Commercial services in Virginia will likely be similar.
The approval — which comes over five years after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos predicted his company would begin drone delivery services — may not be welcomed by all.
Although Wing said it has developed and is testing a drone with a quieter propeller, Australian residents complained about the noise coming from the company’s earlier models, to the point where some said they were spending less time outside. One person in a Wall Street Journal report likened the sound to a “chain saw gone ballistic.”
Beyond sound, privacy is also a concern — especially given the company’s ties to Google.
“This is an important step forward for the safe testing and integration of drones into our economy,” Secretary of Transportation, Elaine L. Chao said in the announcement on Tuesday. “Safety continues to be our Number One priority as this technology continues to develop and realize its full potential.”
For Wing’s parent company, Alphabet, commercial drone delivery is another attempt — similar to its efforts in launching an autonomous ride-service with Waymo— to diversify its businesses outside of ads and search.
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