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Unmanned cargo aircraft is about to take off. Black Swan, a remotely piloted drone designed by Dronamics, will take on the skies by the end of 2023.

Dronamics – a UK-headquartered company – aims to disrupt the cargo delivery industry through its concept, offering same-day delivery, targeting underserved areas, and offering a solution to multiple industries. Currently, less than one percent of the world’s cargo is transported by air – yet representing 35 percent of the world’s trade by value. 

The Black Swan is the spearhead of their concept. It is eight meters long,  has a sixteen meters wingspan, and has the capacity of a small delivery van. Dronamics esteem it can fly for 2500 kilometers, which is to say, across all of Europe, from Los Angeles to Chicago or from Dubai to New Delhi. According to its ideators, the drone saves half the costs, curtails operation times,  and reduces CO2 emissions by sixty percent compared to conventional cargo freight. Yet, the British company offers more than a cargo drone; it provides an all-in-one solution to manage air freight operations. 

“Dronamics is more than the aircraft itself, we offer a cargo mobility solution. It consists of our drones, a network of drone ports, and mobile control and cargo operations,” says Peter Hewett, director of Global Cargo, Security, and Network Operations Centre for Dronamics.

Mobile operations 

The main difference between a conventional cargo operation and the ones designed by Dronamics is that pilots are on the ground. From each drone port, there will be a Dronamics ground control station, where pilots with civil aviation experience control aircraft. To take off and land, the plane needs 400 meters, allowing for more flexibility and usage in more diverse scenarios – thus landing in unreached areas. Cargo handling and maintenance staff on the ground are also involved, as the aircraft turnaround takes half an hour.  

“Our operations are fully mobile, meaning we can be where the cargo is,” explains Hewett. “ The goal is to serve new routes, especially underserved and remote communities, offering faster, cheaper, and greener logistics.”

In fact, the model envisioned by Dronamics wants to serve regional and suburban areas. In the company’s view, the middle mile in logistics is where most bottlenecks and inefficiencies occur, and they think it’s ”where our solution can make a difference,” Hewett emphasizes.

Running on synthetic fuel

In designing every mobility solution, fuel choice makes a difference. Whereas many other aircraft companies opted for electric-powered planes, the Black Swan was designed for biofuels and will move to hydrogen-based and synthetic fuels solutions. The synthetic fuel way guarantees a higher load factor and a more extended range than the electric one, per the company.

In October 2022, Dronamics announced a partnership with Zero Petroleum. The British firm – co-founded by former Formula One engineer Paddy Lowe – manufactures synthetic fuel extracting hydrogen from water and carbon from the air. In 2021, the British Royal Air Force (RAF) completed the first flight using this fuel. 

Using Zero Petroleum’s fuel, drones can fly with menial emissions while keeping high-standard performance. In fact, when burned, this fuel emits as much carbon as is used in its production – the one extracted from the air – allowing for a circular process – if synthesized using renewable energy.

First European licensed company 

Established in 2014, out of the initiative of Konstantin and Svilen Rangelov, Dronamics recently raised €37.6 million in its pre-Series A funding round. Venture capital funds and angel investors joined the round. Last year the European Innovation Council (EIC) also granted the company €2.5 million.

Most importantly, the firm was the first cargo airline to get an operational license in Europe. Dronamics holds the EU’s Light UAS Operator Certificate (LUC). This license provides more commercial opportunities within the European Union countries.

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From Europe to the world 

Overall, the EU is regulating unmanned aircraft operations through the U-space regulation. The standard intends to regulate drone operations to integrate them into European airspace safely. Earlier this year, the first rules became applicable, allowing for more complex and longer-distance operations. Member states must design their U-space areas, service providers, and information and navigation standards. The bloc’s strategy envisions the full implementation of the U-space by 2030. 

Hewett: “The implementation of U-space at the flight levels the Black Swan cruises in, will act as an enabler for our transition to autonomous operations, whereby we will share the airspace with other drone operators and manned aviation, all managed by a U-Space Service Provider.” 

After Europe, the company also aims to bring its model to other continents. As investors from the Emiratis’ Strategic Development Fund supported the pre-Series A funding round, the investment will help establish Dronamics operations in the Middle East and the North African region. 

Being a Black Swan

As Dronamics is completing its test program,  the company will look to expand its operations worldwide in the coming years, aiming to change cargo delivery. 

”The founders called our aircraft the Black Swan as a daily reminder that what we are working towards is challenging, even deemed impossible by many, but once it happens, it will change the course of events,” Hewett concludes.