Japan Airlines Eyes Drone Delivery In Tokyo

Japan Airlines is expanding its interests in drone technologies and capabilities. Having spent the past year developing drone technology to transport emergency goods around unpopulated areas of Japan, the airline is about to start trialing drone deliveries in densely populated urban areas.

Japan Airlines wants to move into the drone delivery business. Photo: Getty Images

Japan Airlines wants to get into the delivery business

Having teamed up with the aerial delivery business, Matternet, Japan Airlines wants to start commercializing drone deliveries. Right now, they are eyeing the health sector and trying to work out the nuts and bolts of whizzing supplies between hospitals and their suppliers.

Tomohiro Nishihata, Japan Airlines’ Managing Executive Officer of Innovation, said in a statement yesterday,

“Japan Airlines is eager to explore the future of its air logistics business with the implementation of drone delivery.

“We aim to contribute to improving healthcare and solving logistics issues through our partnership with Matternet.”

Readers familiar with Japan will be aware of how crowded and congested its cities are. It’s potentially the perfect environment for drone deliveries. But safely navigating the busy cities and all the hazards is easier said than done.

Japan Airlines’ interest in drones is also a sidestep away from its core business of flying people. But the airline appears keen to branch out, all while keeping their focus on the skies.

“Japan Airlines aims to develop a new type of service in the air transportation industry, utilizing new UAV technology,” the airline said in their statement.

Japan Airlines has its eye on drone deliveries across the healthcare sector. Photo: Japan Airlines

An exciting possibility for Japan Airlines

It’s an interesting scenario; Japan Airlines growing a delivery business. While their initial work with Matternet’s drones will focus on the healthcare sector and moving supplies around, it has exciting implications for Japan Airlines’ cargo business down the track.

In the current environment, many airlines are making more revenue from cargo than passengers. In this context, Japan Airlines‘ foray into drone technology makes some sense.

They’ve chosen an interesting partner to team up with. Matternet is a California-based company that claims to be the leading developer of on-demand, autonomous, urban drone logistics systems for transporting medical items around healthcare networks. They say they’ve operated more than 10,000 commercial revenue drone flights.

In the United States, Matternet has already teamed up with UPS to make drone deliveries for WakeMed Health and Wake Forest Baptist Health, both in North Carolina. The business is looking to expand its footprint around the world. Teaming up with Japan Airlines gives it a foot in the door in Japan. Andreas Raptopoulos, CEO of Matternet, said,

“We are very excited to expand our operations to Asia and partner with Japan Airlines to show the incredible impact of drone delivery to Japan’s cities, starting with the Tokyo metropolitan area.” 

Matternet’s M2 Urban drone can carry up to 2kg for 20 kilometers. Photo: Matternet

A very slick operation from Matternet

In Japan, the M2 Urban Drone will get used in the trials. The drone can deliver a payload of up to two kilograms over a distance of up to 20 kilometers. It seems a pretty slick operation. Matternet’s platform takes the customer request, generates routes, monitors, commands, and controls the flights. Matternet sets up automated delivery and receipt points, kind of like drone parcel lockers, where people can quickly and easily load and take deliveries.

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It’s a long way from images of drones crashing landing on your front doorstep. It’s also a big leap from what Japan Airlines normally does. But in places like Japan, drones raise a whole host of fascinating possibilities. Japan Airlines might be smart by jumping on board early.