Google subsidiary Wing Aviation LLC has become the first drone operator to receive government approval as an airline, an important step on the path to having legal authority to deliver packages, according to Bloomberg. The company plans to begin routine delivery of small items from local retailers in Blacksburg and Christiansburg, Va. in the coming months.
Drone regulations ban most flights over crowds and urban areas, but the approvals Wing received from the FAA allow the company to charge for the delivery of goods in Virginia. Wing also can apply for permission to expand to other regions.
Wing provided extensive documentation to support its application, including records of thousands of safe flights conducted in Australia, where the drones also have been approved for delivery. The company also had to create manuals, training routines and a safety hierarchy, and must remain majority owned by U.S. citizens under DOT regulations.
This approval could clear the path for other companies to have their delivery drones approved in a more timely fashion. Wing already has worked through the issues of what rules should apply to drone operators and what rules should not, reducing the burden for future applicants.
Shoppers themselves are increasingly ready for drone delivery: as of February 2019, 37.1% of consumers said they are significantly more comfortable with retailers and transportation companies using drones, an increase of 28.8% from 2018, according to the Annual Connected Retailer Survey.
However, some retailers are staying closer to the ground: landbound drones have been creating some buzz, with several major companies running pilots: