Milestone Reached in Push for Autonomous Regional Cargo Flights

Milestone Reached in Push for Autonomous Regional Cargo Flights

Software Retrofit Allows Cessna to Fly Remotely With No Onboard Pilot

Aviation startup Reliable Robotics has achieved a key milestone on the path to autonomous flight. The company recently completed a successful test remotely piloting a Cessna 208B Caravan turboprop cargo plane. With no human pilot onboard, Reliable’s autonomy software commanded the aircraft through taxi, takeoff, navigation, and landing from 50 miles away. Partners like Brazilian airline Azul now see a realistic future for crewless cargo planes serving regional routes. Certification by aviation authorities could lead to expanded air freight capacity and service.

Reliable Robotics has developed modular automation “stacks” tailored to existing aircraft models. These systems integrate sensor inputs to manage flight controls, engines, navigation, and more at all stages of flight. The Cessna test provided vital validation data towards gaining safety approvals for broader use. It also revealed no significant technical barriers to scaling the technology across regional airlines and cargo fleets.

Redundant Autonomy Hardware Mitigates Risks

Unlike consumer drones focused on ease of flight, Reliable’s systems employ extensive redundancies for reliability and safety. Parallel sets of sensors, computers, data links and even power supplies minimize any single point of failure. Proven avionics and flight control methods provide trusted building blocks. Cloud-connected infrastructure permits remote monitoring, aircraft tracking, weather rerouting, and updating of route plans. Together, these techniques aim to match or exceed the capabilities and safety levels of human flight crews.

Air Cargo Transport Is Seen As An Ideal Early Application

Aviation observers have long forecast that automation’s disruption of commercial aviation will first occur in air cargo transport. Technical hurdles also appear lower for retrofitting older aircraft models still common in regional freight roles. Cessna caravans and other workhorses deliver time-sensitive goods to thousands of underserved destinations. They form aviation’s “long tail” of routes that are costly or impractical to serve with larger planes. Crewless cargo flights can sustainably link more communities while addressing acute pilot shortages.

Crewless Operations Would Transform Regional Air Cargo Economics

Industry analysts forecast tremendous economic benefits from autonomous flight technologies. Removing crew costs and restrictions fundamentally improves the cost structure of shorter flights. Some estimate crew expenses make up around 40% of total operating costs on shorter routes. Greater aircraft utilization and efficiency add substantial savings. Cloud connectivity and electric propulsion could further reduce expenses over time. Ultimately, regional cargo may see two to three fold cost reductions versus today.

Reliable Robotics Making Steady Progress Towards Certification

Other competitors like Xwing and Merlin Labs also aim to bring autonomous flight software to regional airliners. But Reliable appears to hold a commanding lead in maturity of technology and progress through regulatory approvals. Last year the FAA approved Reliable’s overall certification roadmap – a pivotal hurdle. Recently the company joined an FAA pilot program helping shape evolving autonomy regulations. Its Cessna test flights add vital safety data, while new agreements with operators like Brazil’s Azul signal commercial confidence.

Following cargo delivery services as an early beachhead, Reliable also has its sights set on regional passenger aircraft. Its modular software could gradually automate more routes flown by aging commuter planes. Over the next decade, travelers may find themselves regularly flying aircraft controlled by autonomous flight systems rather than human pilots.

By leveraging their expertise and resources, Lading Logistics aims to provide efficient and reliable international shipping and logistics solutions for their clients.