Indonesian airline PT Garuda Indonesia said it will buy 100 drones to deliver cargo from 30 logistics centres to the archipelago's 18,000 islands, Bloomberg reported, quoting Garuda's
Director for Cargo and Business Development, Mohammad Iqbal.
Garuda will set up a venture to procure the drones from China’s Beihang UAS Technology, Iqbal said without disclosing a price. The state-run airline will operate the drones from 30 logistic centres, each with a dedicated airstrip, within five years, he said.
“This will totally change the landscape of the logistic industry in Indonesia,” Iqbal said in an interview at the company’s Jakarta headquarters. “The outlook for the cargo business in Indonesia
is not just good, but very good.”
The drones have a wingspan of 18 meters (60 feet), a range of 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) and a cargo capacity of 2.2 tonnes, will cost about 30% less than conventional freighters and will be assembled locally under license from Beihang.
Another venture will operate the logistic centres and the airstrips.
“Highway in the Sky”
According to the Bloomberg report, Indonesia is preparing to spend more than US$400 billion by 2024 to strengthen its infrastructure and retain its lead as a key mining and manufacturing hub in Southeast Asia. The resource-rich nation, the world’s fourth-most populous, will have 25 new airports by 2024, Planning Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro said last month, as part of the government’s Highway in the Sky plan to improve connectivity.
Garuda will conduct trials with three drones in the eastern part of the country starting September until the end of the year. Commercial services are expected to start early next year in the Maluku islands. The drones will fly seafood to Garuda’s cargo hub in Makassar for onward shipping to Hong Kong and Singapore.
The unmanned aircraft will further aid e-commerce in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, where the rise of online shopping has boosted demand for logistics and shipping companies. Two of the four Indonesian companies that have reached a US$1 billion valuation without tapping the stock market are online merchants.
Passengers down, cargo up, says Garuda
Boosting its cargo operations would also help Garuda cope with declining passenger demand as a result of rising ticket prices, Bloomberg quoted Fahressi Fahalmesta, an analyst at PT Ciptadana Sekuritas Asia as saying.
“Cargo revenue has the potential to grow noticeably due to strong demand from the e-commerce business,” Fahalmesta said, adding that “employing drones is a clear sign Garuda is paying more attention to improve its cargo revenue.”
Air traffic control system for drones is still not in place
Garuda would need government support to operate the drones. Not only would the military-grade aircraft have to use transmitters to relay their positions and other information, air-traffic controllers would need to be trained to manage the unmanned aircraft.
“We don’t have the infrastructure in place for a drone-delivery ecosystem,” said Gerry Soejatman, an aviation expert in Jakarta. “The government needs to set up the routes, the operational area, as well as the infrastructure to pinpoint their location so the air traffic controllers know where they are.”
Nol van Fenema