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UPS Flight Forward and Wingcopter To Develop Versatile Drone Fleet

UPS drone delivery subsidiary UPS Flight Forward (UPSFF) is collaborating with German drone-maker Wingcopter to develop the next generation of package delivery drones for a variety of use cases in the United States and internationally.

The move comes in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic in which the need for alternative logistics and delivery needs are paramount in aiding social distancing. Last week, UPS announced an unprecedented increase in efforts in coordination with the President’s Coronavirus Taskforce, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state health agencies.

“UPS’s dedicated people, global network and public-private partnerships are creating a powerful combination for rapid deployment of protective equipment and test kits throughout the U.S., and around the world,” UPS chairman and CEO David Abney said. “UPS Healthcare has the expertise and experience to move vital, life-saving medicines, medical devices, diagnostic specimens and supplies everywhere they are needed.”

UPS announced a stepped-up collaboration with FEMA to provide supply-chain services for the agency’s distribution of PPE and necessary materials throughout the U.S., including respirators, N95 masks and gloves for use by healthcare workers across the country. As part of the collaboration, FEMA will gain access to UPS’s expansive Worldport facilities in Louisville, Ken., for temporary staging of critical shipments from overseas.

Additionally, UPS is working with an array of government agencies and companies to support swift transportation of test kits, PPE, supplies and medical devices.

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UPS said it chose Wingcopter for its unmanned aircraft technology and its track record of delivering a variety of goods over long distances in multiple international settings.

“Drone delivery is not a one-size-fits-all operation,” Bala Ganesh, vice president of the UPS Advanced Technology Group, said. “Our collaboration with Wingcopter helps pave the way for us to start drone delivery service in new use cases. UPS Flight Forward is building a network of technology partners to broaden our unique capability to serve customers and extend our leadership in drone delivery.”

As part of this collaboration–UPSFF’s first new relationship with a drone manufacturer since its formation–both companies will work toward earning regulatory certification for a Wingcopter unmanned aircraft to make commercial delivery flights in the U.S. It also is a critical step toward building a diverse fleet of drones with varying capabilities to meet even more potential customer needs.

“We are proud to partner with UPS, a global giant in delivery and logistics. Together we aspire to extend the speed and reach of package delivery,” Tom Plümmer, Wingcopter CEO, said.

The Wingcopter drones feature vertical takeoffs and landings in tight spaces, transitioning to efficient, high-speed horizontal flight, enabling ranges suitable for a variety of uses. These capabilities will allow UPSFF to begin developing solutions that, if approved, will go well beyond the healthcare and retail industries to solve long-standing challenges for high-tech, industrial manufacturing, hospitality, entertainment and other customers.

Wingcopter noted that it has already proven its capabilities in numerous beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) projects and for diverse customers around the world, from commercial, factory-to-factory deliveries to life-saving humanitarian projects and emergency medical supply. On the South Sea island of Vanuatu, the startup, on behalf of the local Ministry of Health and supported by UNICEF, successfully set up an on-demand vaccines supply, delivering the urgently needed serums within minutes to multiple different health centers.

UPSFF began operating commercial drone delivery flights last year in the UPS network, starting with delivery service at WakeMed’s flagship hospital and campus in Raleigh, N.C. Since then, the company has delivered thousands of medical samples via drones, supplementing a ground courier service.

UPSFF later announced plans to establish drone delivery services on several healthcare campuses and has been exploring the use of drones to deliver retail, prescriptions and medical products in residential settings. Last September, UPSFF received U.S. government certification to operate a drone airline and has also completed drone deliveries under U.S. Federal Aviation Administration rules.