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The Future for Air Cargo

Welcome to the new network of cargo drones. First thoughts might give you visions of recent stories about pizza being delivered or receiving a home delivered package from Amazon. However, this new network has the scope to create a Super Massive Drone Skyway (SMDS) reaching all parts of the globe. A network that will combine aircraft as large as jumbo jets with medium and smaller size drones to deliver large payloads all the way down to a single package. This network will be moving all international trade from factory to your doorstep.

FedEx, Amazon, DHL, UPS and other logistics companies are in development of smaller drones to deliver straight to your front door. Other companies, such as Boeing, Airbus, Beihang Unmanned Aircraft System Technology from China and others are developing super cargo drones. These drones, Unmanned Cargo Aircraft (UCA), will revolutionise how cargo will be transported around the world. Infrastructure for this cargo network in the SMDS is currently being discussed with international Civil Aviation Authorities, local authorities, legislators, aviation manufactures and logistic companies. The benefits of UCAs will allow for aircraft to fly to one location drop a payload, then reload and fly somewhere completely different, eliminating any pilot flight time and base restrictions. The UCAs will have lighter airframes, no crew and no lifesaving equipment on board, which will be one factor in the reduction of overall costs, with fuel, labour and time efficiency. Another potential reduction in fuel cost will be that the aircraft could fly at a slower speed.

These UCAs will continue this process around the clock 365 days a year. Currently, air cargo is limited to fly to a location and then return back to where it started where the pilots are based. There are also flight time regulations that only allow for the pilot to fly a certain number of hours, whereas the drones can operate by using a combination of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and human pilots operating from a control room the network of cargo drones. This human factor will most likely be required by governments and legislators around the world, as there will need to be a human system in place to take over control in case the drone technology malfunctions or the drones are hijacked. This will create a new breed of pilot, which would be similar to a current air traffic controller, but with the qualifications of a pilot. When the drone pilot is finished for the day, another drone pilot will step into their seat. This rotation can offer 24 hour 7 days a week timeless service, allowing each aircraft to work without much down time. The aircraft will also not have the restriction of one permanent base, allowing them to fly where they are immediately required to deliver or pick up the cargo. This would allow for a much more efficient logistics system.

Discussions with civil aviation authorities, policymakers and logistic corporations worldwide are currently trying to outline how UCAs can operate without disturbing the public and disrupting passenger airline operations. Investors are looking at various options for airfields, some on water, some in open fields and post-war unused airstrips, as possible airport locations for these drones. Utilising these potential airfields can offer true solutions to airspace at existing airports, where time slots are already pushing capacity at the world’s busiest airports.

Some negatives could be certain communities will protest because they do not want air traffic disturbance and poor air quality in the new airfields. There also might be public doubts and concerns about autonomous flight, which could lead to little or no initial investment going into the UCA marketplace.

This revolutionary logistics concept is predicted to take around 15 years to be put into place. However, with the speed of technological growth and the overall need to help reduce costs, this Super Massive Drone Skyway has the ability to be here within a few years. Currently, Brookfield is looking at ways on how to train this new breed of pilots that will work in the UCA control rooms. We are in discussions with various training organisations, allowing Brookfield to continue to be the market leader of pilot resources.

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