As drones are introduced into everyday life in the U.S. — from recreational flying to commercial uses — FAA's number one priority remains safety. Whether manned or unmanned aircraft, FAA requires that all operators follow specific guidelines for the operations they request.
The FAA is encouraging innovation and working with industry, state, local, and tribal governments to realize the benefits of drones and inform future rules and regulations. From 2017 through 2020 the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP) focused on testing and evaluating the integration of civil and public drone operations into our national airspace system. This work continues under the UAS BEYOND program which focuses on the remaining challenges of UAS integration, including beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations, societal and economic benefits of UAS operations, and community engagement.
Participants in these programs are among the first to prove their concepts, including package delivery by drone through part 135 air carrier certification. Part 135 certification is the only path for small drones to carry the property of another for compensation beyond visual line of sight.
As participants in these programs move to prove their concepts, they must use FAA's existing Part 135 certification process, some of which FAA has adapted for drone operations by granting exemptions for rules that don't apply to drones, such as the requirement to carry the flight manuals on board the aircraft.
All part 135 applicants must go through the full five phases of the certification process.
The FAA issues air carrier certificates to U.S. applicants based on the type of services they plan to provide and where they want to conduct their operations. Operators must obtain airspace authorizations and air carrier or operating certificates before they can begin operations.
- Part 135 Single Pilot. A single-pilot operator is a certificate holder that is limited to using only one pilot for all part 135 operations.
- A Single Pilot in Command certificate is a limited part 135 certificate. It includes one pilot in command certificate holder and three second pilots in command. There are also limitations on the size of the aircraft and the scope of the operations.
- A Basic operator certificate is limited in the size and scope of their operations. Maximum of five pilots, including second in command. Maximum of five aircraft can be used in their operation.
- A Standard operator holds a certificate with no limits on the size or scope of operations. However, the operator must be granted authorization for each type of operation they want to conduct.
The FAA issued the first Part 135 Single pilot air carrier certificate for drone operations to Wing Aviation, LLC in April 2019. The FAA later issued Wing a Standard Part 135 air carrier certificate to operate a drone aircraft in October 2019. Wing Aviation is part of the Integration Pilot Program (IPP), delivering food and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals directly to homes in Christiansburg, VA.
UPS Flight Forward, Inc., another participant in the IPP, was the first company to receive a Standard Part 135 air carrier certificate to operate a drone aircraft. On September 27, 2019, UPS Flight Forward conducted its first package delivery by drone with its part 135 certification when it flew medical supplies at WakeMed's hospital campus in Raleigh, NC.
The FAA is currently working on six additional part 135 air carrier certificate applications that have been submitted by IPP operators and one 135 application that was submitted by an FAA Partnership for Safety Plan (PSP) participant.