TIACA ES: Astral to start testing the Flyox drone

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African carrier Astral Aviation is to start testing its two-tonne Flyox drone in Malawi next month as it looks to start operating regular flights, writes Justin Burns.

Speaking at The International Air Cargo Association’s (TIACA) Executive Summit in Miami in the ‘Unmanned aircraft and new airline technology’ session on 19 October, chief executive officer, Sanjeev Gadhia says it is full steam ahead.

Gadhia says the plan is to operate the petrol-powered Flyox drone on point-to-point routes for various sectors in Africa sometime in the next three to six months.

He explains the drone, which was developed in Barcelona, Spain, would carry a range of shipments for various sectors including humanitarian aid (food and medical relief, vaccines etc), O&G and mining, agriculture and post and e-commerce.

Gadhia says the advantages of using cargo drones over manned aircraft are they are more cost-effective, provide more flexibility in flight scheduling, have the ability to land on unpaved runways, and there are fewer flight curfew requirements.

The Flyox he explains will be operated from a separate control station and uses satellite technology. Plans are also in the pipeline to develop a five-tonne payload drone.

Gadhia the development cost of Flyox has been about $1 million and the drone will be offered as a service for last mile deliveries in Africa, where many locations are difficult to reach due to the lack of infrastructure and connectivity.

Also speaking in the session was Boeing’s senior manager in commercial airplane product development, Mithra Sanrithi who says the US aircraft manufacturer is looking into the market, but is taking a “measured approach”.

He adds that Boeing is also planning on testing new aircraft technology such as auto taxing in 2019 and auto take-off. “The only issue on autonomy is it has to deal with emergency situations. Boeing is taking it seriously, but in a systematic way,” Sanrithi says.

Airships are also in development and Hybird Enterprises chief executive officer, Brian Bauer says plans are well advanced and a prototype LMH-1 Hybrid Airship built with Lockheed Martin – is on track to fly in 2019.

LMH1 will have a payload of 23.5 tonnes and Bauer says the advantages over manned aircraft are it needs less fuel, is quieter and emits less carbon emissions.

He notes plans are also afoot to one day develop a 90-tonne LMH-2 and 500-tonne LMH-3. Bauer says the cost of developing LMH-1 is about $47 million.