Zipline, a drone delivery firm has started its operations in the US after it signed a partnership with North Carolina’s Novant Health. This comes just weeks after the firm announced similar operations in Ghana.
This is Zipline’s first American launch even though the US-based firm has been in operation for several years in Africa and recently launched a successful COVID-19 response in Ghana.
According to Angela Yochem, executive vice president and chief digital and technology officer, Novant Health, “The COVID-19 pandemic has tasked us with being even more nimble and innovative in how we solve complex challenges. Fast-tracking our medical drone transport capability is just one example of how we’re pioneering in the health care industry, which is known for being resistant to change.”
The operation provides contactless distribution of personal protective equipment and critical medical supplies to Novant Health frontline medical teams in the Charlotte, North Carolina, metro area. The operation helps position Novant Health, which operates 15 hospitals and nearly 700 locations in the southeastern United States, to adapt quickly to the evolving pandemic and could lead to innovative uses such as testing, drug trials, and vaccine distribution in the future.
Zipline will provide ongoing drone logistics flights in Class-D controlled airspace, where all air traffic is actively managed by the FAA, under a part 107 waiver issued to a major U.S. healthcare system. True to its roots, North Carolina is once again “First in Flight.”
Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo said: “And we’re proud to partner with Novant Health, a true leader in health care innovation, to begin helping in the United States as well. We’re likely in for a long-term fight against COVID-19. Using contactless drone logistics will be an important tool in that effort. The work underway here in North Carolina will provide the rest of the country with a blueprint for how to build the most resilient and responsive health care system possible.”
The two-year partnership plans to expand beyond emergency operations in the Charlotte area to regular commercial operations, subject to approval under FAA Part 135 rules, to serve health facilities and, ultimately, patients’ homes across the state. Then create a next-generation model for health system logistics leveraging contactless drone deliveries.
The emergency drone fulfillment center, which is adjacent to the Novant Health Logistics Center in Kannapolis, North Carolina, will launch Zipline drones to distribute Novant Health’s critical medical products to its area hospitals. The emergency drone fulfillment center was made possible by Stewart-Haas Racing, which generously contributed the site.
Two initial routes have been approved by the FAA for the launch of operations. Service will begin with flights to Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center and expand in later phases. Flights to initial facilities will range in distance from 20 to 30 miles round trip.
Prior to the launch of this operation, typical drone logistics flights in America ranged between 500 feet to a mile and a half in distance. Zipline’s drones have a round trip range of over 100 miles, making them capable of delivering medical supplies from the Novant Health Logistics Center to more than 30 additional Novant Health facilities upon approval.
The drones are capable of carrying close to four pounds of cargo, flying up to 80 miles an hour, even in high winds and rain.