- Dallas-based cargo airline Ameriflight received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate Matternet M2 drones, enabling the carrier to launch large-scale drone operations in the U.S., according to a May 30 release.
- The cargo carrier plans to operate the drones for healthcare and e-commerce commercial deliveries in dense urban and suburban communities throughout the country, per the release.
- While drone destinations are not laid out at the moment, the carrier intends to begin operations within 90 days, an Ameriflight spokesperson told Supply Chain Dive.
Ameriflight has been building up its drone fleet to grow its expedited delivery offerings. Earlier this year, the cargo carrier also signed purchase agreements with drone developers Natilus and Sabrewing.
“Each of the [drone] operations are intended for separate service offerings, the M2s being time-sensitive small package needs for healthcare customers, and eventually e-commerce customers,” the spokesperson said.
In contrast, the Sabrewing and Natilus drones “will be used for larger shipments, in the 2,000-pound to 7,500-pound range,” according to the spokesperson. That’s more than the weight of an average car.
M2 drones are equipped with a 4.4-pound payload and can travel up to 12.4 miles over urban and suburban environments, according to Matternet’s website.
The smaller payload enables Ameriflight to diversify its delivery solutions for customers amid a shifting air cargo market.
“The M2 drone operation will be entirely complementary to, and most certainly not replacing, our current aircraft or pilot group,” the spokesperson said. “An operative [unmanned aircraft system] division allows us to expand into a largely untapped delivery market with a lot of room for speed and safety logistic improvements.”
The fleet will be deployed using Matternet's software platform from a central remote Network Operations Center. Currently, the size of Ameriflight’s M2 drone fleet doesn’t have a “specific number,” but will become more clear as the carrier gradually ramps up operations, according to the spokesperson.
While the M2 delivery drone has been issued a Type Certificate by the FAA, the Sabrewing and Natilus drones are still in the development stage, and operations will not commence for at least another two more years, the spokesperson said.
Ameriflight currently operates a fleet of 156 cargo aircraft, according to the company website.