A small, low-cost drone, capable of delivering air freight at low cost, could become a key component of the UK’s air freight fleet.
The International Air Transport Association (IAAF) has announced it is developing an AI-driven system for air freight delivery that would help airlines save money and make more efficient use of their cargo space.
The company behind the AI-enabled delivery system, Aipl, says its drone, which is set to be tested by British Airways at Heathrow Airport this week, will be able to deliver up to 30,000 tonnes of air freight per hour.
The AI-based system would also be able do a more advanced level of control over the delivery process, which would help make sure the system could not accidentally drop its payload and cause the aircraft to be lost in the middle of a route.
“The technology will be very scalable and can be developed in a way that is cheap enough to be deployed on large-scale commercial deliveries,” Aipl chief executive Richard Fitch told the BBC.
The FAA, which oversees airspace in the United States, has been working on the AI technology for a number of years, and has a contract to build the system.
The project is being led by Aipl and will be funded by the FAA’s Commercial Transportation Services (CTS) program, which has a long-term contract to help finance AI-technology projects.
The FAA’s contract was extended in 2021 and it expects to be awarded by the end of the year.
The company expects to have the AI system ready for testing by the middle to late 2021.
In 2018, the FAA issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the AI delivery system and the company had initially selected an aerospace company, but it has since opted for the UK-based Aipl.
“Aipl is excited about the potential for this technology to revolutionise delivery logistics,” Fitch said.
“This will be a significant benefit for UK airlines, which will be looking to invest in new technologies to improve their fleet.”
Airlines are also likely to be looking for ways to cut their operating costs.
Aipl says it is able to reduce operating costs by 50-60 percent compared to conventional delivery methods, which includes the use of drones.
“This is a technology that can make air freight cheaper, faster, safer and more efficient,” Fitts said.