Are Drones the Future of Air Freight? | Asian Way

Are Drones the Future of Air Freight?


Two Swiss companies are experimenting with drones as a means to deliver goods to remote areas, though widespread use is likely still years away


Are drones the future of air freight? A pair of Swiss companies aim to find out.

Swiss Post Ltd., Switzerland’s postal service, Swiss WorldCargo, the air freight division of Swiss International Air Lines AG, and California-based drone manufacturer Matternet are testing the practical use of drones in logistics, the companies announced this week.

The applications of drones range from “delivery to peripheral areas,” to the express delivery of goods, quick delivery of urgent-transport items like laboratory tests and transporting emergency supplies “to an area cut off from the outside world following a storm,” Swiss Post said in a statement announcing the effort.

“The common theme is remote locations where the road infrastructure isn’t there,” said Brain Clancy, who covers the air freight industry for Logistics Capital & Strategy, a Virginia-based transportation consulting firm.

Common application of drones to deliver e-commerce packages in densely-populated areas, however, is still a long way off, logistics experts say. Swiss Post said that the widespread use of drones “is not expected within the next five years,” but that some realistic commercial use of the technology could emerge over that same period.

“In the next 10 years are we going to see drones flying down the street delivering packages for Amazon? Probably not,” said Mr. Clancy. “But could we see the drones delivering packages to remote islands in Alaska, where the air space isn’t so cluttered? Or could we see Caterpillar moving spare parts to an excavator to a remote mining site in Chile? Absolutely. Niche uses definitely have applications, and the cost benefit analysis is very compelling.”