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Drones for Freight Shipping?

Sep 22, 2018

Once, just a hobby, drones now have many commercial uses in product delivery, aerial photography, and peacekeeping. It used to be that they were only small craft. Now significantly larger applications are becoming a reality in the transport of tons of freight through the use of cargo drones. What’s happening with these larger unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)? Let’s take a look.

Cargo Drone - American Group.jpgDrone Development, Testing and Benefits

Drones, also known as UAVs, are aircraft capable of completing tasks and missions autonomously or with the aid of human assistance. They take off and land like a helicopter while flying like an airplane between point of origin and destination. They are presently being developed by companies around the world. Their advancement is supported by investors such as UPS, FedEx, Amazon, Google, and more.

Cargo drone companies will be among the first to fly autonomous commercial aircraft. They will first fly in areas outside densely populated areas where safety concerns won’t be as high. Early testing involved remote-controlled flights that are expected to lead to semi-autonomous and then fully autonomous flights. Drone autopilot flights will be set by a human controller. Removing human pilots allows for the use of a single engine. This makes these cargo drones more economical to buy, operate and maintain while reducing environmental impact.


Current uses 

In the United States, drones are currently used for aerial photography, to survey farms, inspect building roofs and deliver small packages. Elsewhere in the world, they are used to deliver medicines to areas where roads or distances make these deliveries difficult. They’re also used to move parts and inventory between multi-location businesses or manufacturing plants. The military currently uses drones to fuel planes in flight.

Future Applications

It’s expected that these freight-carrying UAVs will be able to operate over the ocean as a faster option to cargo ships and more economical international option to traditional air freight. They’re also potential options for shorter truck deliveries, reducing emissions and congestion on the roads. Ocean routes will be run by drones that operate like sea planes by taking off and landing on the water. They will then taxi into commercial ports where they will be unloaded and reloaded by cranes.

There’s a potential market for cargo drones in servicing mid-sized cities in regions such as China and Africa. Specifically where there’s a lack of major airport infrastructure and a need for international shipments. The military has been developing drones to potentially transport goods and equipment to areas where other modes aren’t suitable as well. 

When Will We See Them? 

A report by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) predicted that short-haul cargo aircraft will be making routine flights in the U.S. for early adopters in seven to 13 years. Those flights will be at low altitudes and in rural areas. Long-haul flights by cargo drones would follow about 15 years from now.

Biggest challenges

There are many obstacles to overcome before container-sized drones will be flying the skies. Communications, avionics and sensor technology need to improve. Cybersecurity issues will have to be addressed and the regulatory landscape must change. FAA regulations will be one of the biggest hurdles. Today’s air transport regulations will need to be relaxed for larger drones to be used. The FAA is working with the industry to figure out how to safely integrate cargo drones into their regulations. Current FAA rules, released in 2016, limit a drone’s weight as well as when and where it can fly. These rules will need to be revised before these larger UAVs can operate in the U.S. 

There’s lots of potential for these new transport vehicles and they’re being tested today. Unfortunately, there are many obstacles to overcome before we actually benefit from their use. Want to keep current with the latest in freight shipping technologies and receive assistance planning your shipments? Contact American Group.

American Group is a 3PL with decades of experience guiding businesses through the selection, preparation, and shipping of their freight. Contact us for assistance with your next shipment by phone at 866-553-6608 or by email at We’re here to make Shipping.Simplified®.