Embraer’s innovation-focused subsidiary EmbraerX and cargo drone developer Elroy Air announced a collaboration agreement Wednesday. The partnership gives EmbraerX access to the commercial air cargo market and gives Elroy Air access to Embraer’s expertise in technical development of aviation equipment.
The deal came about over the past year as an opportunity for Embraer to enter the cargo space and Elroy to access technical advisory and certification advice, Elroy Air CEO and co-founder Dave Merrill told Air Cargo World. He added that Elroy’s cooperation with a large company like Embraer so early in its development should assist Elroy as it aims to explore multiple models of drone operation.
Making commercial cargo drone operations feasible from both a financial and infrastructure standpoint has been an early challenge faced by companies hoping to enter the space, with many competing models already emerging. While early in its own development, Elroy Air is already discussing different models with potential customers, Merrill said.
The ability for drones to operate express logistics networks in places that would be cost-prohibitive or otherwise difficult by conventional means is “interesting [to] some customers already operating fleets of aircraft that want to incorporate our system into the fleet,” Merrill explained. Other customers are interested in introducing cargo drone operations into their networks without having other aviation operations in place, which would leave Elroy Air operating the entire air network for those customers. “It’s early enough to explore both models, with no need to commit to one yet—or maybe ever,” he added.
Elroy Air’s large vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial cargo aircraft completed its first full-scale system flight test in August 2019. The UAV is equipped with special cargo-handling capabilities for picking up and dropping off pods of cargo unattended, requiring little interaction from people, and “aims to be the pickup truck of the sky,” Merrill said.
Regarding the benefits of the partnership with EmbraerX, Merrill said the advisory benefits to Elroy Air are substantial, allowing Elroy to reach the right person at Embraer when drone development raises technical or engineering questions.
“Elroy has an amazing technical team, but in aerospace you’re creating vehicles where the [development] cost can be high and mistakes are costly—you want to get it right the first time,” he said. “It’s good to have access to another engineering team.”