The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

On The Radar

FAA Allows Exemption Over Part 135 Training Requirements for UPS Flight Forward Drone Pilots

The FAA has granted a request from UPS Flight Forward to allow it to conduct drone delivery flights under an exemption from Part 135 rules. The decision could set a significant precedent for an industry that expects to scale up operations at such a pace that it will struggle to recruit suitably trained personnel. The bottom line from the decision, which was relayed to the company on April 27, is that remote pilots in command (RPIC) who lack commercial pilot certificates can operate UPS's small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

In a detailed summary granting a petition filed in September 2020, Robert Carty, deputy executive director of the FAA’s Flight Standards Service, explained the basis for the ruling to UPS Flight Forward’s operations director Eric Bergeson. The 20-page document details the basis for the decision, which is mainly founded on the training program that UPS has put in place for its RPICs.

The FAA’s careful assessment of that program, which is specific to the UAS in the UPS fleet and the nature of the operations, could provide useful clues for other drone delivery operators looking to take a similar approach. The agency concludes that it will require UPS’s drone pilots to be certified under the Part 107 rules covering small UAS and to complete an FAA-approved air carrier training program that “provides operational specific and aircraft specific training.” The exemption is limited to the Matternet M2 v9 drone that UPS Flight Forward is operating.

While the FAA ruling relates specifically to UPS’s request for an exemption, it provides insights into the agency’s attitude toward the case for flexibility. It may also give some pointers as to how future remotely piloted passenger aircraft operations might be considered, although nothing in the document alludes to this scenario.