Autonomous and digital is the way for the logistics industry, and the future of flight seems no different. The industry is looking at self-flying planes to carry cargo from one part of the world to another. Start-ups such as Reliable Robotics, Xwing, and Natilus are working on the concept of pilotless cargo jets across the globe. While Reliable Robotics and Xwing, are working on retrofitting Cessna Grand Caravans. Natilus is developing a family of pilotless cargo jets, starting with a 3.8-ton twin-engine turboprop – able to carry the equivalent of seven LD3-45 small shipping containers for short-haul feeder service. This new tech-driven innovation is expected to fly commercially by 2025 following approvals from the government bodies and a series of trials.
Why pilotless flying?
Flying cargo from one point to another in a pilotless plane allows the plane to carry 60% more volume than a comparable traditional freighter. Ditching the traditional cylindrical shape, the diamond-shaped cargo bay provides an efficient blended wing body configuration, introducing more loading positions and maximizing space in the aircraft.
The robot aircraft will use existing airport infrastructure, engines, and standard cargo containers, while cutting costs by 60%, lowering carbon emissions by half and eliminating human errors, thereby, making operations efficient.
Capable of fully automated flights, the robot cargo jets can also be operated with a remote pilot in an office to comply with current regulations and enable faster approval. Switching from a pilot on board to a remote pilot is a smaller bridge to cross for civil aviation authorities, who are already comfortable with existing autopilot functions on aircraft that essentially turn the pilot into a skilled flight manager rather than a manual aviator. The aircraft not only reduces the cost but also helps to address a looming shortage of pilots as air travel and air freight demand continue to grow.
The aircraft’s design is expected to outperform passenger-to-freighter converted aircraft because the conversion process adds weight. Looking at the added benefits of the self-flying airplane, logistics companies have shown keen interest in the model. Third-party logistics provider Flexport, which recently raised fresh capital, has tentatively ordered two large autonomous cargo jets with a 100-ton payload from startup aircraft manufacturer Natilus.
In addition to Flexport, Natilus on Wednesday announced $6 billion in advance purchase commitments of more than 440 aircraft from Volatus Aerospace, a drone services provider; Dymond Group, a management services and consulting company with an aerospace division based in Ottawa, Ontario; and Aurora International, an aerospace company developing autonomous aircraft products and services in the Kingdom of Eswatini, formerly Swaziland.
Last year, the logistics giant FedEx, working with Reliable Robotics also disclosed its plans to use self-flying planes in its fleet to deliver cargo.