Indonesian airline Garuda has unveiled plans to purchase 100 cargo drones within five years to deliver freight with payloads of up to 2.2 tonnes to 18,000 islands, with trials set to begin this September. The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will be procured from China’s Beihang UAS Technology, and will have a wingspan of 18 metres, a range of 1,200 kilometres, and a cargo capacity of 2.2 tonnes and are said to cost about 30% less than conventional cargo aircraft. Garuda will begin trials with three drones in the eastern part of the country, starting in September and lasting until the end of the year. Commercial runs will start early next year in the Maluku islands with the drones flying seafood to Garuda’s cargo hub in Makassar for onward shipping to Hong Kong and Singapore. Delivering cargo to outlying areas of the world’s biggest archipelago continues to be a major logistics challenge, which the proposed drone service could help address.
Although a number of companies, including postal and express operators and e-commerce innovators such as Amazon, have for some time been in trials with drone delivery of small shipments of up to 2kg, mostly using quad-copter or ‘hobby drone’ type technology, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology capable of carrying heavy cargo loads have obviously been more challenging to develop.
Meanwhile, in the US, Sabrewing has been working on developing two different sized vertical-takeoff drones and has the backing of a paying commercial customer that has signed up for a number of units. The Rhaegal is designed to carry a cargo payload of up to 350 kg over distances of up to 360 nautical miles (670 km); the Wyvern is designed to carry a payload of two tonnes over a range of up to 800 nautical miles. It has received permission to start test flying in 2019, and expects to start carrying full payloads in 2020, but does not expect full certification of the aircraft until 2023.