TOKYO -- Japanese airline group ANA Holdings will launch a drone delivery service in the fiscal year through March 2023, using a vehicle developed by a German startup to carry daily necessities and medicines to Japan's remote islands and mountainous regions, Nikkei has learned.
ANA is preparing the service as the Japanese government takes steps toward relaxing drone regulations sometime in the same fiscal year.
It will be the first time for a domestic airline to start a drone transportation service.
ANA's German supplier is Hessen-based Wingcopter. The startup's drone has recorded a top speed of 240 kph and can travel up to 120 km, more than 10 times farther than general-purpose drones.
ANA expects the service to transport daily necessities to remote islands as well as medicines and relief goods to disaster zones. It has been testing drone transportation on remote islands since 2018 and plans to deploy its airline expertise in flight route design and aircraft safety management.
In March, the government approved a bill to amend the Aviation Law, which includes expanded airspace and fewer regulations for drones. In fiscal 2022, the government is expected to allow drones to be flown out of the operator's sight in densely populated areas. ANA will prepare for commercialization based on this "level 4" flying standard.
Even after drone flying is deregulated, only government-certified aircraft and qualified operators will be allowed to fly drones in populated areas. ANA sees this as an advantage for airlines.
Drones are being employed for more jobs, such as inspecting infrastructure and transporting goods. According to Tokyo-based Impress Research Institute, the domestic logistics market for drone services is expected to grow from 1.5 billion yen ($13.7 million) in fiscal 2019 to 79.7 billion yen in fiscal 2025.
In Japan, logistics companies have been quick to adopt drones due to their trouble in finding enough truck drivers. In April, Seino Holdings began operating a transport drone on a full-time basis in a Yamanashi Prefecture village.