Dr. Hans Heerkens of the Twente University, Netherlands will speak about Unmanned Cargo Aircraft

titled: freight mobility from everywhere to everywhere
Unmanned Cargo Aircraft (UCA) are much more than aircraft without pilots. ‘Unmanned’ can make aircraft lighter, more efficient and more productive. This is especially the case with smaller aircraft. We expect that UCA will make point-to-point cargo transport much more feasible than it is now, decreasing lead times and risk of delays for suppliers and clients. They also could unlock the economic potential of regions with limited ground infrastructure, and connect those regions with their markets in Europe, the US and Asia. In this presentation we will look into the potential for UCA, and at the challenges in turning them form a vision into reality. We will also address the work the Platform for Unmanned Cargo Aircraft (PUCA).

For more information about the seminar, go to the seminar page.

About the Dutch Platform for Unmanned Cargo Aircraft (PUCA)
A decade ago, unmanned aircraft were a virtually unknown phenomenon. Presently, thousands are in use worldwide. They are mostly employed for military tasks like reconnaissance, but their potential for civil applications is considerable. One of those applications is cargo transport. The Dutch Platform for Unmanned Cargo Aircraft (PUCA) aims to facilitate the development of unmanned cargo aircraft (UCA’s) and to let its members play a meaningful and profitable role in this development. At present the PUCA-members are Dutch organizations, but we welcome international members as well. PUCA aims to capitalize on the strengths of its members: logistics, systems integration, sensors and development of subsystems.

Why UCA’s?
UCA’s can be both cheaper to operate and more productive than manned cargo aircraft. Cheaper because less personnel is required; one controller on the ground can handle a number of UCA’s and on long flights there is no need for an extra crew. Furthermore, a UCA can be built more cheaply than a manned aircraft (there is no need for life support systems etc.) and fuel consumption can be reduced by opting for a relatively low cruising speed. A higher productivity is possible because, for example, crew flight time limitations and the need to return crews to their operating base are absent.

The advantages of UCA’s manifest themselves in particular with small planes (where, for example, crew salary expenses constitute a relative large percentage of operating cost). This means that UCA’s potentially do not merely compete with existing air transport assets, but can also open new markets. Worldwide there are still many areas that are deprived of high-quality transport because demand is uneconomically low or because geographical barriers limit the efficiency of ground infrastructure. For the moment PUCA directs its efforts primarily to UCA’s with a payload of ten tons or less, distinguishing two applications. Firstly: continental transport. For example: companies in Central and Eastern Europe, now constrained by inadequate ground infrastructure, would be able to transport their wares from small airfields (perhaps specifically created for UCA’s) to Western European or even American markets. The second application is intercontinental transport. For example: small companies in the Chinese hinterland can sell their goods via Internet to customers in Europe and transport them through small local airports.

In both cases, the cargo volumes may not big enough for existing forms of transport. PUCA aims to do for material goods what the Internet did for immaterial goods: create a dense, adaptable network for moving goods so that each small company or even individual can become his or her own shipper. The size of the markets described above is not yet known. But it seems evident that they are big enough to justify the development of UCA’s.

Who are the members of PUCA at present?
The organizations represented in PUCA comprise:

  • KLM (airline)
  • Fokker (aerospace manufacturer)
  • Research institutes (the Dutch Aerospace Laboratory and universities)
  • Private entrepreneurs and investors
  • Shippers are temporarily not represented; the two shippers’ representatives changed jobs so we are looking for replacements

Since the founding of PUCA in June 2011, the following activities were started:

  • Identification of possible configurations and applications of UCA’s
  • Supervising of research projects done by university students relating to, for example, operating cost of UCA’s
  • Giving presentations about UCA’s and their potential and establishing contacts with potentially interested parties
  • Preparing a research proposal for funding by the European Union
  • Setting up an organizational structure to manage research and development activities

The near future
We will shortly start deciding which UCA configurations will be further developed and commence identifying what the demands from potential users are. Also, further funds will be sought to support research and other activities. An important issue is enlisting the support of policymakers and the general public; unmanned aircraft are sometimes controversial because of safety concerns for people on the ground. Finally, we need more manpower and resources; developing a new aircraft is an expensive, time-consuming activity for which expertise in many disciplines is required. That’s where you come in. And that’s why we hope this information leaflet makes you want to know more about PUCA and the way you and your organization might contribute.

For further information, please contact Dr. Hans Heerkens of the Twente University, Netherlands, chairman of PUCA, or go to the site.

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