Air cargo will one day see the use of large cargo vertical landing and take-off (VTOL) drones and the technology could be a game-changer for the industry.
Drones will provide a major boost to the supply chain at the perfect time, and help the industry overcome some of the major headwinds that it is facing and will continue to battle in the years ahead.
Fleets of drones will help the air cargo industry reduce its carbon emissions, improve operational efficiency by speeding up the movement of shipments and save on costs.
Another benefit is shown clearly today as the globe battles to overcome COVID-19 which is having a massive impact on the supply chain.
Drones will not need to be crewed so the risk of spreading contagious diseases is reduced and the movement of freight will not be impacted. Self-sanitation type technology could also be built into the drones to protect cargo transported and when they are loaded and unloaded.
They will also solve one of the biggest problems currently faced by air cargo stakeholders, as they will help relieve congestion at airports that are struggling to free up slots for freighter aircraft as being VTOL’s they require very little space for take-off and landing.
The technology will also have a positive impact on communities around the world as drones will be used to reach off-the-beaten track destinations that freighter and passenger aircraft are unable to reach.
One company developing cargo drones is the Californian-based start-up Sabrewing Aircraft Company, which has developed its Rhaegal RG-1 regional cargo drone that offers high-efficiency, all-weather operation with VTOL capabilities.
The hybrid-electric autonomous VTOL drone is capable ofcarrying payloads of up to 1,000 lbs over a distance of 1850 kilometres with a cruise speed of 330 kph.
The cargo bay is easily accessed through the nose and can carry standard cargo pallets or bulk cargo using a convertible roller floor.
No runway is required, meaning it can land anywhere on any terrain and the vertical landing allows for pinpoint accuracy, while it can operate in all-weather conditions.
The nose entry cargo bay is easily accessible from the ground and doesn’t require special loading equipment, while it is also better for the environment as it has a turbo-electric powertrain, making it extremely fuel efficient, doesn’t require a charging station and has automatic collapsible wings allowing for easy ground transport and storage.
Sabrewing is also developing a large-scale, long-endurance, high-cargo-capacity drone which it says it will be about the size of the Cessna 208 Caravan, a cargo-carrying staple on feeder routes for FedEx and regional cargo carriers, with similar acquisition costs and operational speed.
The company says it is close to finishing production of its first aircraft and plans to start flight testing at the end of the year and is targeting 2023 for certification through Part 23.
Another being developed is Elroy Air, which is developing a hybrid-electric autonomous VTOL aircraft for 300-pound cargo transport of up to 300 miles.
The likes of Boeing are also getting in on the act along with other companies like Natilus, Bulgarian company Dronamics and Africa’s Astral Aviation, who have all been busy developing drones for cargo use.
Drones in the sky could become a reality very soon and in January, according to a report on Aviation Today, six aircraft intended for urban air mobility, including the Rhaegal RG-1 and Elroy, are “well along” in pursuing type certification with the Federal Aviation Administration.
As drones are on the horizon, I guess the question is will airlines start ordering them and will they have their own fleets of large capacity VTOL drones in the future?
Cargo drones are set to be a reality in air cargo over the next few years once they are cleared by aviation authorities and it is only a matter of time when the technology provides another option for the supply chain to the benefit of PayCargo’s partners.