In a landmark certification for the company, drone delivery provider Flytrex on Tuesday announced that it had received FAA approval for drone deliveries with a range of up to 1 nautical mile in North Carolina, expanding its reach to approximately 10,000 households in the state.
As part of the certification, Flytrex will be permitted to fly its drones over people and moving vehicles within a 1-nautical-mile radius of its operating stations in Fayetteville, Raeford and Holly Springs, into which the company expanded in October. Deliveries will continue to be made in conjunction with Causey Aviation Unmanned, the company’s longtime delivery partner in the region.
As a participant in the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP), the Israel-based company has been working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation since 2018, and it’s been completing drone deliveries in the region since September 2020 as part of the subsequent BEYOND initiative, which focuses on improving beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations.
For residents of the 10,000 eligible households in Flytrex’s expanded delivery zone, the ordering process will remain the same. Customers can use the Flytrex app to choose from a variety of local restaurants, stores, cafes and even ghost kitchens. From there, customers can check out like they would on any third-party food delivery app and track their order status until the package is lowered by wire either directly to their backyards or to a central pickup location, like this one in Fayetteville that receives orders of Starbucks:
So far, the company says it has completed thousands of deliveries within its tri-city drone delivery hub, and its volume of orders has increased tenfold since February. And just a few weeks ago, Flytrex nabbed a $40 million Series C funding round to continue expanding across the country and developing new partnerships.
“Drone delivery is reaching new heights faster than anyone could have expected. This approval from the FAA will allow us to cater to the growing demand for fast and efficient on-demand delivery in suburban America,” said Yariv Bash, co-founder and CEO of Flytrex. “We look forward to continuing on this exciting flight path, bringing five-minute delivery to the millions of backyards across the USA.”
Bash and Flytrex began their drone delivery odyssey in an unlikely place. In 2017 in Reykjavik, Iceland, Flytrex worked with the country’s largest online marketplace, AHA, to unveil one of the world’s first-ever fully functioning drone delivery networks.
After successfully getting that project off the ground, Bash set his sights on an entirely different setting — the suburban United States, where the company has done much of its heavy lifting since 2017.
“We’re meant to sell to the suburbs and private houses,” Bash told Modern Shipper in February. “You don’t see too many [topography] changes in the suburbs — nobody is erecting skyscrapers.”
But for the most part, those projects have been limited by U.S. regulations surrounding BVLOS flights, which are not yet permitted commercially by the FAA.
Watch: Flying beyond the line of sight
Now, however, with a new FAA certification allowing for flights up to 1 nautical mile away, Flytrex will finally be able to break that barrier in North Carolina. Up until now, Flytrex drones had to remain within the pilot’s line of sight, which according to the FAA is around 1,500 feet. With the new FAA approval, though, the distance Flytrex can cover is now over 6,000 feet, more than four times what it used to be.
But Bash is aiming higher still. Flytrex is one of a handful of companies nearing the end of a yearslong regulatory process to secure an airworthiness certification from the FAA for its drones — that would give the company’s drone delivery network much more leeway than a commercial drone certification, which is limited by the FAA’s regulations for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
“The difference is huge. You can buy a commercial drone from Best Buy, versus it takes three to five years to certify an airplane. So to the untrained eye, they all look the same: a box with a few propellers,” Bash explained to Modern Shipper in an interview in October. “But aviation-wise, these are very different machines than most of those you see flying over your head.”