Lofty Google spin-out becomes first drone firm to be approved as an airline

24 Apr 2019

The Wing drone unfurling its tether to deliver a package. Image: Wing

A Google drone subsidiary called Wing can now be considered an airline in the US, giving it power to drop packages from the sky.

Amazon had placed itself as the company leading the race to get drones to deliver packages right to the homes of customers, but now it may find itself lagging behind when it comes to regulation.

According to Bloomberg, Google subsidiary Wing has become the first drone operator to get US government approval as an airline. In doing so, it gets a major leg up in efforts to deliver packages.

Until now, other companies working in this space were only allowed to perform test flights and deliveries over rather short distances. Now, Wing can consider itself one of the country’s smallest airlines.

With this status confirmed, the company will begin trialling package deliveries of small items to two rural communities in the state of Virginia. While current drone regulations will limit its ability to fly over crowded or urban areas, this new government approval at least gives Wing the ability to charge for deliveries and expand into other regions.

To receive approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration and the transportation department, Wing had to have everything that a regular airline would have, including manuals and training routines.

Given the unprecedented nature of drone delivery for some, the company said it plans to run an extensive outreach campaign among locals and government officials in the areas it will trial the service, with the first actual flight not expected to be for several months.

The drone is a cross between a helicopter and a winged aircraft and is capable of flying at relatively high speeds. Once it reaches its destination, the package in its belly is gradually lowered down to the ground using a tether while it stays airborne.

The company’s plans are not limited to the US, as it has already received regulatory approval for deliveries in Australia and began testing its drones in Europe last year.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic