Spright, the drone division of Air Methods, the leading provider of helicopter emergency medical services, has announced an agreement to purchase up to 140 of Dufour Aerospace’s Aero2 unmanned tilt-wing aircraft.
The multi-year and multi-million dollar agreement, which was announced during a press conference today (Friday), represents the largest commitment by an operator to-date for the Aero2 design, as well as one of the biggest civilian unmanned aerial vehicle purchases in US history.
Joseph Resnik, president of Spright, said: “Dufour Aerospace has developed an impressive Swiss Army Knife for unmanned air mobility that will meet your commitment for its vision and to the technological approach, in which we are proud to be the first operator in the US. It will enable us to serve the critical goods distribution markets efficiently.”
As part of the agreement between the two parties, Spright will also assist Dufour in obtaining FAA-type certification for Aero2, including technical, data and flight activity support for demonstration purposes. This will include durability, failure and reliability testing and detect-and-avoid capabilities. Spright will also be the exclusive Aero2 service, maintenance and training partner for third parties in North America.
The aircraft expands Spright’s opportunity to serve the healthcare community by carrying heavier payload over longer distances. This translates to more patient samples, larger tissue specimens and organs, as well as heavier supplies and equipment being transported.
Resnik said: “Our main purpose is for medicine for medical supplies and specimens. Part of Air Methods’ mission is not just save lives, but to improve patient outcomes. And a big part of that is moving that type of medicine – whether it be the equipment or specimens over medium to long-ranges in a more efficient manner. By having Aero2, it will give us the ability to do that – especially in rural locations where the healthcare is not as efficient.”
Resnik added that any North American operations or customers which are flying aircraft, Spright’s 50,000 sq.ft. facility in Gilbert, Arizona, will able to provide maintenance services through this partnership.
Based in Switzerland, Dufour Aerospace is focusing on the emergency medical services market and movement of time-sensitive, critical cargo.
Aero2 has been specifically designed for the transportation of critical cargo such as medical supplies for up to 40 kilograms (88 pounds) across medium- to long-range distances. In terms of certification, Dufour expects the Aero2 to be certified with EASA towards the end of 2024 with deliveries commencing from the beginning of 2025.
Thomas Pfammatter, CEO of Dufour Aerospace, said: “Today is indeed a very special day for Dufour Aerospace and for the people who have helped and supported us for many years. Spright provides us with an even better understand what drone operators and their customers need for their daily operations.
“With an experienced and ambitious partner like them at our side, we will be able to make Aero2 an even better product that will help solve some of the vertical cargo transportation challenges in an efficient and safe way. We are delighted by the confidence shown by Spright in Dufour Aerospace, evidenced by today’s purchase announcement for the Aero2.”
During the press conference, Pfammatter also stressed the timing of this partnership, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the need to quickly deliver medical goods in an efficient manner.
“More and more private players, institutions and government organisations are interested in using long-range drone capabilities for the benefit of people and also to improve the efficiency of operations. While there remains some questions around the safe use of drones, depending on the region, there is a dynamic towards opening up more beneficial areas of applications.”
Terms of the purchase, development, and service agreement between the parties have not been disclosed. Flight testing of the Aero2 is currently under way in Zurich, with Pfammatter confirming there are currently two prototypes and the next version of the aircraft is now in the design phase.
With Aero2 being designed for remotely piloted operations, the company is also developing its Aero3 aircraft. This eight-seater piloted model will be used specifically for air ambulance and Health, Education, Maintenance and Support (HEMS) operations.
“It’s basically in first prototype design but as we see such a huge demand for Aero2, we want our team to focus on this aircraft, bring it to the market and have this early revenue opportunity. That is the best potential right now,” Pfammatter added.