Unmanned cargo aircraft and latent economic power
Worldwide, tens of thousands of flights take place every day. However, most flights are between large population centers in Western Europe, North America and East Asia. Many regions in Africa, South America and inner Asia are deprived of the air transport infrastructure that is needed for their economic development. Often, ground transport infrastructure offers no relief; roads are primitive or inaccessible during certain seasons, and natural barriers hamper the construction of railroads or waterways. Still, some of these regions may have considerable economic potential because of latent demand for local products, availability of raw materials, labor or certain skills, or access to government development funds. For such regions, unmanned cargo aircraft (UCA) offer a means of unlocking their economic potential.
UCA that are at present considered for development should have the following benefits:
- They can be small and yet efficient, and thus are suitable for transporting the small volumes of cargo that many developing regions generate.
- They can fly long distances with small loads. This means that they can connect producers in even the remotest locations with their customers, often with direct flights, thus avoiding the cost, hassle and security risks of stopovers.
- They need only semi-prepared and short (500-1000 m) runways that are easy to construct, so they can operate close to, for example, industrial parks.
- They can take off and land at steep angles (more than 7 degrees), thus negating obstacles like mountains and built-up areas.
- They are guided en route by professional air traffic control centers, with highly autonomous take-off and landing procedures that can be monitored by local operators with limited training.
Regions that are especially suitable for the use of UCA include:
- Regions that lack a suitable ground or air transport infrastructure, either because of lack of means of development or because of natural barriers.
- Regions that do have a good local transport infrastructure but are too distant from transport hubs that provide international or intercontinental connections. In China, there are more than twenty cities with 5 million inhabitants or more, but there are only a few intercontinental hubs. Cities can easily be 500-1000 km or more from the nearest hub.
- Regions that can potentially produce goods that are in international demand but in volumes that are too small for dedicated cargo flights and with populations too small for regular passenger flights with belly cargo. Even regions with 2 million or more inhabitants in their catchment area may well struggle to attract scheduled long-range connections, especially if the income per capita is low.
- Regions with a geographically fragmented customer base, limiting the amount of cargo per flight.
- Regions with product demand or output that is irregular, unpredictable or varies per season, thus making any sort of scheduled flights impracticable.
The Internet has made it possible for even the smallest companies to market and sell goods worldwide, and to perform the related financial transactions. But getting the goods to the customers is sometimes expensive, risky, difficult or outright impossible. This is where UCA come in. UCA make it possible to move even the smallest volumes of goods from anywhere to everywhere.