Japanese airline ANA is betting big on drones.
The company perhaps best known for its luxurious passenger flights announced in April 2021 a partnership with Germany-based Wingcopter that could open the door for its dominance in the world of drone delivery.
Wingcopter has long been working on drone delivery. And now given the new ANA partnership, the two aviation companies will conduct trials using Wingcopter’s electrical fixed-wing VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft to test how it could build a drone delivery network across Japan.
The duo already completed the first phase of testing between March 21 and 26, 2021, when a drone flew between Fukuejima and Hisakajima in Goto City, Nagasaki Prefecture to demonstrate the viability of using drones to delivery medical supplies, with the intent of increasing delivery speeds. After all, in this remote region of Japan, poor infrastructure makes it difficult to quickly transport medical supplies.
Check out video outlining the partnership here:
While it might seem odd to merge a traditional passenger airline with a tech-focused startup, the partnership makes sense: Star Alliance member airline ANA can provide its insights gained from decades of aviation experience to help Wingcopter understand Japan’s local aviation regulations and unique flight conditions. Wingcopter, meanwhile, brings the expertise in terms of training of drone pilots, mission planning, operation design and maintenance.
And for what it’s worth, ANA is far from a stodgy, old-school airline. ANA has a history of innovation in autonomous technology, such as its work testing prototype baggage loaders and towing tractors at Saga Airport.
As far as the next round of Wingcopter and ANA drone testing, ANA is now looking to determine which aircraft are suited to operate best in each region of the country, whether there is demand for drone delivery (and how much), and to establish a series of transportation hubs hubs. The aircraft would likely be some iteration of Wingcopter’s unique, patented tilt-rotor mechanism drones, which exceed the range and payload capabilities of most commercial multicopter drones. That’s thanks to Wingcopter’s ability to take off and land vertically like multicopters, while flying long distances as fixed-wing aircraft, even in strong winds and other tough weather conditions.
Wingcopter has been on a tear throughout 2020 and in 2021. Wingcopter was named a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum in 2020 and a finalist in the third annual AUVSI XCELLENCE Awards 2020. In January 2021, the company announced that it had secured $22 million in Series A funding in a round led by Silicon Valley-based Xplorer Capital. Wingcopter is also one of the companies that sought out COVID-19 as an opportunity to prove its contactless delivery use case.
Its new partnership with ANA represents a major step in expanding to the Japanese market. In fact, the company recently opened its own office in Japan.
Oh, and Wingcopter holds a Guinness World record in speed for flying its drones at up to 150 mph.