ANA HOLDINGS (ANA HD) and Wingcopter already enjoy a collaboration going back to 2019, when they carried out their first drone flight field tests. Now, work is starting in earnest to develop a drone delivery infrastructure for rural Japan. The first test phase took place 21-26MAR21.
ANA HD’s vision of a drone transportation infrastructure began back in 2016 already, as it started to outline plans to have drone delivery services up and running commercially by 2022. The step
was in line with expectations that the Japanese government, (which improved its Aviation Law in MAR22, expanding airspace and reducing the number of drone regulations), will allow drones to be
flown out of the operator's sight in densely populated areas come 2022.
ANA is preparing for commercialization based on this "level 4" flying standard. Aside from using drones to deliver medicines and relief goods to disaster zones, ANA HD is looking to establish a commercial service to transport medical goods and daily necessities to the remote Japanese islands. Tests similar to those recently carried out, were already trialed to the remote islands back in 2018. The airline has now settled on Wingcopter to move forward with the concrete implementation, bringing in its airline expertise in flight route design and aircraft safety management. It can also draw on its experiences since 2019 over in Zambia, where it had signed an MoU with the Zambian Government at the time, to conduct similar field tests with drones delivering medical supplies across Zambia.
Wingcopter is a strong partner
The Hessen, Germany-based, award-winning drone manufacturer has seen a similar vertical uplift as that of its own unmanned eVTOL aircraft systems (UAS) since its foundation in 2017. In the meantime, it has been and is involved in projects across five continents, often in relation to medical goods and health supplies deliveries, but also transporting food and eCommerce. Just last month, Wingcopter teamed up with UPS for that reason. Its drones have a unique, patented tilt-rotor mechanism, enabling them to fly long distances of up to 120 kilometers, at a Guinness world record speed of 240 km/h, even in adverse conditions such as strong winds of up to 71 km/h. For the cooperation with ANA HD, Wingcopter has announced that it will be deploying its next generation of even more efficient Wingcopters, that it plans to present to the public in the coming weeks. Neither Wingcopter nor ANA HD have disclosed exactly how many drones will be in the network fleet, nor how high the investment sums are. Wingcopter, however, recently set up its first representative office in Japan, and its collaboration with ANA HD triggers the start of its Japanese market penetration. Its expertise is already known in the Asian country, given that Wingcopter was awarded the Sustainable Development Goals Spotlight Prize at NTT DATA's Open Innovation Challenge in Tokyo last year.
Goto City was the go-to field test
The recent field tests on 21-26MAR21 involved supervised Wingcopter flights between Fukuejima and Hisakajima in Goto City, Nagasaki Prefecture. Japan has a number of remote islands, most without access to medical supplies, and therefore the flights were to demonstrate the viability deploying drones for this purpose: delivering medical supplies quickly and efficiently to patients who would otherwise have to wait a long time due to poor infrastructure and connections to these areas. Rapid response of this kind can literally save lives.
"The ongoing tests of Wingcopter aircraft represent a significant step forward in the creation of a viable drone transportation network," said Tetsuya Kubo, Vice President of ANA HD overseeing the Digital Design Lab. "We are excited to partner with Wingcopter as we build on the advances and innovation of previous trials to bring drone delivery one step closer to reality. Once fully realized, a functioning drone transportation infrastructure will help improve quality of life in rural areas across Japan."
Finding the best fit
“The ongoing trials will help ANA HD determine which aircraft are suited to operate best in each region of the country, evaluating local weather conditions and demand for drone delivery, as it establishes a series of hubs along the transportation network,” the press release reads. That the drones are robust has already been proven in Wingcopter’s experiments in the extreme heat of the UAE, icy cold in arctic Canada, and impetuous storms of Ireland.
While ANA HD is bringing its long aviation experience to the table regarding compliance with local aviation regulations and unique flying conditions of Japan, beyond drone provision, Wingcopter is also providing support in terms of training of pilots, mission planning, operation design as well as maintenance.
Japan and beyond
“Being able to help a global company like ANA open up new business areas and at the same time pursue our mission to save and improve lives, is what we tirelessly work for,” Tom Plümmer, CEO of Wingcopter, stated. Certainly, with Japan, Wingcopter will not run out of new business areas as the country is very forward-looking as far as flying delivery services are concerned. According to the market research agency, Impress Research, the market for drone services in Japan is forecasted to grow by 1.5 billion Yen (around €11.5 million) to 79.7 billion Yen between 2019 and 2025. “We are really looking forward to the next steps and the overall partnership with ANA in Japan and beyond,” he continued.
“Beyond” could possibly be just around the corner in Malaysia, since AirAsia declared early last month, that it is planing to launch the country's first drone delivery service in an effort to diversify as a result of the negative coronavirus pandemic effects. We can expect to see more airlines move forward with drones as an additional service going forward if country regulations can keep up with innovation.
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