Ameriflight Makes Aviation History With FAA Approval for Large-Scale Drone Delivery Service in the U.S.

Dallas-based Ameriflight plans to operate the Matternet M2 drone for commercial delivery—focusing on healthcare and e-commerce deliveries to customers in dense urban and suburban environments across the country. The approval will enable what the Part 135 Cargo airline calls "the first fully operational, large-scale drone operation in the United States."

Dallas-based Ameriflight is the nation’s largest Part 135 Cargo airline, offering 1,500 weekly cargo departures from 14 bases to 200 destinations. And it will offer something else “very soon”—commercial drone deliveries from coast to coast.

Ameriflight announced Tuesday that the Federal Aviation Administration has given it approval to operate drone aircraft, making it the first existing Part 135 Cargo airline to be granted the exemption.

The company also received FAA approval to add Matternet M2 drones to its fleet of over 100 crewed aircraft, enabling the launch of what Ameriflight calls “the first fully operational, large-scale drone operation in the United States.”

“The approval to add drones to our operation positions Ameriflight, once again, at the forefront of innovation in the aviation industry,” Owner and Chairman Jim Martell said in a statement. “Moving forward with the future of our newly operative UAS division allows us to expand into a largely untapped delivery market with a lot of room for speed and safety logistic improvements.” 

Focusing on health care and e-commerce deliveries

Ameriflight plans to operate the Matternet M2 drone for commercial delivery—focusing on health care and e-commerce deliveries to customers in dense urban and suburban environments across the U.S.

The company will deploy its fleet of M2 drones using Matternet’s software platform from a central remote Network Operations Center. Ameriflight says this will allow it “to safely expand its network, while maintaining the highest level of pilot operator supervision and flexibility.” Ameriflight emphasized that it will operate the drones as a supplement to its crewed operations. They will not replace the company’s current flying operation, aircraft, or pilots.

The Matternet M2 is the first non-military drone to achieve FAA Type Certification

Ameriflight will operate a national drone delivery service using the Matternet M2 delivery drone. [Image: Matternet]

Matternet received FAA Type Certification for its M2 drone last September, following a rigorous, four-year evaluation by the FAA to prove its safety and reliability. The M2 is the first first non-military unmanned aircraft to achieve that certification in the U.S., giving the Mountain View, California-based company a big competitive advantage in the drone delivery market.

“Drone delivery will revolutionize healthcare and e-commerce in the U.S.,” Andreas Raptopoulos, founder and CEO of Matternet, said in a statement last September. “We’ve been at the forefront of this revolution since launching U.S. operations in 2019—we are now ready for scale.”

The company’s partnership with Ameriflight, and Tuesday’s announcement of Ameriflight’s FAA approval, paves the way for that scaling to begin.

“We’re thrilled to enable the nationwide deployment of our drone delivery system and to have Ameriflight, a leading cargo airline with a strong track record of reliability, safety, and performance, at our side,” Raptopoulos said in a statement released Tuesday. “This partnership enables us to offer our customers turnkey access to fast and reliable on-demand delivery capabilities today. This is not a test program or a future deployment concept—this is the real, scalable, and safe drone-based solution that customers are looking for.”

Serving ‘time-sensitive small package needs’ with launch coming ‘very soon’

“Adding this state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly aircraft and launching our UAS division allows us to expand our service offerings to off-airport alternative sites for time-sensitive small package needs,” Ameriflight President and CEO Alan Rusinowitz said in a statement. “Matternet’s technology is at the forefront of autonomous innovation and provides a revolutionary solution for customers. We’re looking forward to launching our first M2 flights very soon, and, as we move forward into future flight, developing additional areas of drone delivery.”

Ameriflight says “medical samples and small-batch pharmaceuticals” will be the M2’s initial cargo, speeding up delivery compared to ground transportation and offering “increased reliability.” Beyond healthcare, e-commerce drone deliveries will enable “ultra-fast delivery of small packages.”

Ameriflight announced two other drone moves this year

In February 2023, Ameriflight signed an intent to purchase 35 Sabrewing Rhaegal-A air cargo drones. [Photo: Business Wire]

The Matternet partnership isn’t Ameriflight’s first foray into the world of drones. In February, Ameriflight announced it had signed a letter of intent to purchase 35 VTOL air cargo drones (above) from the Sabrewing Aircraft Company. That news came just weeks after the company announced an agreement to purchase 20 autonomous Kona cargo aircraft from California-based Natilus.

The company says it intends to use all three fleet types in tandem with its current operation, with a goal “to build diversified aviation services.”

Ameriflight signed with Natilus to purchase its Kona short-haul feeder uncrewed aerial vehicle. [Image: Ameriflight]

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R E A D   N E X T

  • Ameriflight—the nation's largest Part 135 Cargo airline—announced signing a letter of intent to purchase 35 VTOL air cargo drones from California's Sabrewing Aircraft Company. Just last month, Ameriflight signed with Natilus on the purchase of 20 autonomous Kona aircraft, which can carry payloads up to 3.8 tons without a crew.

  • Fort Worth-based drone show company Sky Elements broke a Texas record Sunday night—and spread a little holiday cheer as well. To attract attention for the North Richland Hills toy drive benefitting the Community Enrichment Center, Sky Elements presented a "1,001 Drones Holiday Show" over the Birdville ISD Fine Arts/Athletic Complex.

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