ASL Aviation Holdings, which operates cargo flights for global couriers Amazon, FedEx and DHL, is gearing up to add drone delivery to its portfolio of services.

The company said Tuesday that ASL Airlines Ireland, one of seven airlines in the Dublin-based group, has been awarded a provisional operator certificate for unmanned aircraft systems by the Irish Aviation Authority.

The optional certification gives subsidiary ASL Future Flight the ability to start commercial drone delivery of light cargo over short distances without specific route authorization. Under European Union aviation safety rules, ASL can fly drones nearly 10 feet in diameter that carry small packages weighing about 11 pounds.

ASL Future Flight is only the third operator to obtain an operating certificate for light unmanned aircraft systems. It will take advantage of the approval to train crews and gain flight experience with electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft before graduating to heavier, longer-range drones, which require full authorization similar to an air operator’s certificate. The drone division will begin initial test flights in the coming weeks, and plans for commercial activities will be announced later this year, according to the announcement.

“This light unmanned certification shows ASL’s commitment to be ready, willing and able as unmanned aircraft become larger and capable of operating over wider networks delivering cargo up to 500 kgs [1,100 pounds] or more,” said ASL Airlines Ireland Managing Director John Rawl.

ASL Airlines Ireland has 40 aircraft dedicated to express parcel and e-commerce markets in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

ASL is exploring new flight technologies with 15 partners involved in large unmanned aircraft and zero-emission aviation using hybrid electric propulsion and hydrogen fuels. The ASL CargoVision Forum includes Dronamics, a developer of large unmanned aircraft that operate from runways, and Drone Delivery Canada, which has autonomous helicopters.

Last week, ASL Aviation Holdings expanded into the Australian air cargo market with the acquisition of Pionair and closed on a $155 million credit facility with Goldman Sachs to fund procurement of converted freighters.

Other airlines that have ventured into drones include All Nippon Airways in partnership with Wingcopter and Air Canada Cargo, which is functioning as a sales agent for Drone Delivery Canada.

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FedEx airfreight partner ASL Aviation acquires Australia’s Pionair

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