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How Droneliner Could Transform Cargo Shipping

How Droneliner Could Transform Cargo Shipping

The News: There are two primary options for shipping cargo over long distances: air and sea. Air freight is expensive due to having a limited payload, amount and cost of fuel used, complexities of the loading/unloading process, and the crew payroll. Sea freight takes weeks instead of days but costs less. Droneliner, a British aerospace startup, can reduce the cost of air freight by more than 70%, bringing it down to levels comparable to sea freight while reducing delivery time and emissions. Droneliner makes air freight a viable option for many more goods. Read more on Droneliner’s website.

How Droneliner Could Transform Cargo Shipping

Analyst Take: There are two primary options for shipping cargo: air and sea. Air freight is cost prohibitive due to having a limited payload, amount and cost of fuel used, complexities of the loading/unloading process, and the crew payroll. Sea freight takes weeks instead of days but costs less. According to Droneliner, a British aerospace startup, it can reduce the cost of air freight by more than 70%, bringing it down to levels comparable to sea freight while reducing delivery time and emissions. The planes that are currently used for air freight were designed and built to carry passengers, not containers. Most cargo aircraft have cylindrical bodies with concave inner walls, just like passenger-carrying airliners. Droneliner makes air freight a viable option for many more goods.

Shipping containers will not fit in round-sided fuselages, therefore, they are only able to carry small packages, and cargo space is sacrificed to make room for the cockpit and crew. Loads usually must be put on and taken off via the side of the plane. Unlike current planes repurposed for air freight, Droneliner’s body is shaped more like a smooth-edged rectangular box, allowing conventional-style 20-foot intermodal shipping containers to be rolled on and off via ramps in its wide-opening front and rear ends. And because Droneliner planes are remotely piloted, no allowances need to be made for any onboard crew.

Droneliner will offer two types of aircraft having a range of 6,500 nautical miles (12,038 km):

  • Single-engine DL200: Accommodates a total of 36 to 40 containers on two levels, for a maximum cargo weight of 200 tons (181 tonnes)
  • Twin-engine DL350: Carries 70 to 80 containers on three levels, managing up to 350 tons (318 tonnes)

Droneliner Fuel Efficiency

Due to Droneliner’s fuel efficiency, it is the perfect candidate for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and hydrogen fuel solutions. Droneliner offers a payload to fuel ratio of 4:1 compared with current cargo planes with up to a 1:4 ratio. Droneliner allows the use of sustainable fuels on the flight to Net Zero while significantly reducing operating costs. In addition, Droneliner’s fuel efficiency allows it to make long-haul journeys in a single flight unlike existing cargo planes that might need to stop to take on more fuel and more crew.

Droneliner envisions itself as a multipurpose platform for:

  • Military and civilian containerized intermodal freight
  • Air-to-air refueling (tow-and-lock fuel tanks)
  • Military air-drop (with remote “pinch-point” release)
  • Disaster relief and virus-free unmanned delivery
  • Emergency aid and supplies

According to claims design coordinator and company director Mike Debens, work on the two Droneliner aircraft is in the preliminary stage, but initial analysis has shown the project to be feasible. Droneliner will voluntarily limit the operation of its aircraft, such as banning them from serving busy airports near major population centers, to help aid regulatory approval.

Disclosure: The Futurum Group is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.

Analysis and opinions expressed herein are specific to the analyst individually and data and other information that might have been provided for validation, not those of The Futurum Group as a whole.

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Image Credit: Droneliner

Author Information

Clint brings over 20 years of market research and consulting experience, focused on emerging technology markets. He was co-founder and CEO of Dash Network, an integrated research and digital media firm focused on the CX market, which was acquired by The Futurum Group in 2022. He previously founded Tractica with a focus on human interaction with technology, including coverage of AI, user interface technologies, advanced computing, and other emerging sectors. Acquired by Informa Group, Clint served as Chief Research Officer for Informa’s research division, Omdia, with management and content strategy responsibility, formed by the combination of Tractica, Ovum, IHS Markit Technology, and Heavy Reading.
Clint was previously the founder and President of Pike Research, a leading market intelligence firm focused on the global clean technology industry, which was acquired by Navigant Consulting where he was Managing Director of the Navigant Research business.

Prior to Pike Research, Clint was Chief Research Officer at ABI Research, a New York-based industry analyst firm concentrating on the impact of emerging technologies on global consumer and business markets.

Clint holds a Master of Business Administration in Telecommunications Management from the University of Dallas and a Bachelor of Arts in History from Washington & Lee University.

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