Are Drones Tomorrow’s Cargo Transporters?

During the past couple of years there have been various reports, articles and views on the future of drones as carriers of “air cargo.” Many were, or still are skeptical of whether this can be seen as a future means of carrying and delivering shipments from door-to-door.

Is this the big future cargo drone?
Is this the big future cargo drone?

Civil use of drones growing fast
You see, or hear them in a lot of places in the meantime. The bothersome civilian drones used by the general public in communal areas, getting in everybody’ way and in the meantime being a distinct danger for civil aviation by those idiots using them in the vicinity of airports.
But - they are part of the future - and why not for the air cargo scene?
IATA recently drafted a paper tackling the subject of whether drones are part of tomorrow’s air cargo scene. They rightly point out that in the meantime drones have become a very important commercial market for areas such as the media, agriculture, firefighting, humanitarian needs as well as surveillance and monitoring.

DHL to sponsor drone race
On another note - DHL one of the main sponsors of the Formula One racing circuit, has announced that they will sponsor the DR1 drone race under the title of DHL Champion Series. Top racing teams and their pilots will compete at various locations throughout the world and will be broadcast by TV companies throughout the world. Is this DHL’s way of keeping their finger in the drone scene for the future?

So, why not for air cargo - and why not speed up the process?
So, back to the cargo drones:
Surely they could offer new opportunities for many aspects of the cargo scene.

  • The so called “first and last mile delivery” - this especially for small packages is something which various companies are working on at high speed in order to present viable solutions to communities and shippers.
  • Remote location access where even the world’s best express companies cannot offer surface transport to. This is especially interesting and vital for humanitarian operations such as medicine delivery etc.
  • The IATA paper also questions whether drones could also be a cost effective alternative to traditional aircraft in the future for specific routes to support the growth of cross-border e-commerce traffic for instance. A long way away it seems - ‘but the wheel was not square before it was round’.

It’s going to happen - but when?
Unmanned air vehicle development is still in its early stages and this includes the manufacture and use of drones. They cannot be seen to be a danger to civil aviation when in the wrong hands and if not properly monitored. The industry has to come up with good solutions here before cargo drones can some day become a day-to-day reality.
Not only the threat to civil aviation is a problem. Cargo drones of the future have to be able to carry larger shipments over longer distances and be able to find their way back to origin in order to be put back into circulation quickly.
There has been a small drafting group set up by IATA working with China, USA and Europe to develop a concept of operations (CONOPS) for air cargo drone development and operations in the fire.
It will surely come about - but, how about the industry getting the Lithium Battery issue finally under control, before we “drone off.”

John Mc Donagh

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