Wingcopter and ANA Holdings – the parent company of All Nippon Airways – are working together to accelerate the delivery of vital pharmaceuticals and other consumer products via unmanned aircraft in Japan.
The two companies are conducting comprehensive trials with fixed-wing eVTOL aircraft developed by Wingcopter, with the aim of building a drone delivery network capable of serving needs across the country.
The first phase of the current tests took place from March 21st-26th, with the supervised flight of a Wingcopter aircraft between Fukuejima and Hisakajima in Goto City, Nagasaki Prefecture.
The flights demonstrated the viability of drone delivery for medical supplies, dramatically reducing patients’ waiting times. In this remote region of Japan, it is difficult to quickly transport medical supplies due to poor infrastructure. This has created problems for public health officials and medical professionals looking to rapidly respond in situations, where time is a key factor in treatment.
The ongoing trials will help ANA determine which aircraft are suited to operate best in each region of the country, evaluating local weather conditions and demand for drone delivery, as it establishes a series of hubs along the transportation network.
Tetsuya Kubo, Vice President of ANA overseeing the Digital Design Lab, said: “The ongoing tests of Wingcopter aircraft represent a significant step forward in the creation of a viable drone transportation network. We are excited to partner with Wingcopter as we build on the advances and innovation of previous trials to bring drone delivery one step closer to reality. Once fully realised, a functioning drone transportation infrastructure will help improve quality of life in rural areas across Japan.”
In 2016, ANA began to lay the framework for its drone transportation infrastructure with the aim of fully commercialising drone delivery services by 2022. Drone delivery trials have been conducted in Japan since 2018, and the first flights with Wingcopter aircraft took place in 2019.
ANA is providing insights gained from decades of aviation experience in the country, in full compliance with local aviation regulations. While Wingcopter is providing support in terms of training of pilots, mission planning, operation design and maintenance.
For Wingcopter, the partnership with ANA is the first major step in its quest to expand in the Japanese market. The company recently opened its own representative office in Japan, offering solutions in commercial drone delivery.
As Wingcopter’s fixed-wing eVTOL aircraft can fly for longer distances and more rapidly than other unmanned aircraft, they represent a useful alternative to overland delivery in many regions. In 2020, Wingcopter was awarded the Sustainable Development Goals Spotlight Prize at NTT DATA’s Open Innovation Challenge in Tokyo.
“Being able to help a global company like ANA open up new business areas and at the same time pursue our mission to save and improve lives, is what we tirelessly work for,“ adds Tom Plümmer, CEO of Wingcopter. “We are really looking forward to the next steps and the overall partnership with ANA in Japan and beyond.”
As well as Japan, ANA signed an Memorandum of Understanding with Zambian Government in 2019 to conduct similar field tests with drones to improve the delivery of medical supplies in the country.