DALLAS – ASL Airlines Ireland (AG) has taken a step into the drone package delivery business, with remote-piloted regional aircraft on their radar. It has obtained an operator’s certificate for a Light Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) that will allow for the delivery of small packages up to around 5kg.
The Dublin-based carrier said it would use the certificate for training and experience to progress into bigger drones for heavier cargo loads.
Part of the ASL Group, AG has the largest fleet of the seven airlines in the ASL group, with 130 aircraft across the EU, UK, Africa, and East Asia. Flying the Airbus A330F, Boeing 737F and ATR 72F aircraft, their primary business is the “damp lease” of cargo capacity to the three delivery giants – Amazon, DHL, and FedEx. All of them have their own uncrewed vehicle projects ongoing.
LUC of the Irish
The Light Unmanned Aircraft System (LUC) operator certificate was issued Monday, April 10, by the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and is a pre-defined risk assessment stage for commercial drones in the 25kg maximum take-off weight category. This was granted after submitting a safety manual detailing remote piloting competencies and a robust safety management system, amongst other qualifications, including strict risk assessment profiling.
Commercial drone laws have evolved recently under new EASA regulations. This has come after the creation of three distinct categories covering recreational drones (Open), Commercial/Delivery drones (Specific) and the eVTOL/Air Taxi (Certified).
The biggest challenge to the sector is the beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) rule, where operators must keep the drone in direct sight during operations, limiting delivery zones. This new risk-based approach deployed by EASA should ensure that operators such as ASL will be ready when the traffic management systems catch up.
Remote-Piloting is Already Here
In December 2022, ASL partnered with Reliable Robotics, which had tested remote-piloted aircraft with FedEx since 2019. An FAA-approved STC was used to modify a Cessna Caravan, which completed test flights (with a pilot on board) from Albuquerque, New Mexico. In the future, ASL would be keen to do something similar in the skies over the EU.
ASL is the second major Irish player to enter the drone delivery market after Manna Aero’s launch some years ago. Manna has been pushing the regulatory boundaries in the last-mile delivery market while balancing the regulatory changes and waiting for the Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) infrastructure to mature. Amazon has struggled with their MK30 drone delivery project in the US, failing to get FAA approval “over people, roads, and structures” due to a “failure to deliver durability and reliability” parameters, according to the FAA district office.
ASL is taking those first necessary steps in automated unmanned flight. Most, if not all, approvals of this kind are based on experience through thousands of hours and cycles, and they intend to develop their automation framework on smaller vehicles in defined areas before moving into the regional freighter market. To give ASL their due, they are investing heavily in the sustainability and Advanced Air Mobility market under the CargoVision brand.
Featured Image: ASL Airlines EI-STO Boeing 737-400(SF). Photo: Lorenzo Giacobbo/Airways.