Japan-based ANA Group ventures into drone business

ANA Wingcopter drone
Image Credit: ANA

LONDON – ANA Group plans to helps rural communities access to basic goods and services, with its proposed drone delivery service. 

Dating back to 2016, ANA Group established an in-house project team to study the possibilities of venturing into new business opportunities utilising drones. With success, the group came up with an inspection project, using drones to conduct top-down view (bird’s-eye view) to conduct aircraft inspection during checks.

Moreover, the ANA developed-drone is able to assist feasible studies to deliver basic goods for those who live in remote islands and mountainous/treacherous terrains of Japan. A Eureka moment thus sparked at this stage. 

Starting as early as the year 2018, ANA drones have been flown using drones to venture into new projects and have been using them to transport medical equipment, medicines and essential goods to disaster-struck areas. ANA Group has conducted 15 successful flights to these prone areas. 

With these drones unit operating successfully, the airline however noted that these services are too costly for daily use. Moreover, aviation-related rules, restrictions and regulations are the greatest bumps that the group faces, and may not after all be economically viable. Access to the population is also restricted as a result.

There is a glimmer of hope, the automation of these drone services is expected to shave-off costs and drone licensing for operators like ANA will see a gradual easing of restrictions.

With this being said, the ANA group will move further to operate its delivery services on a trial basis, with a focus on delivering essential goods and for emergency usage before operating them on a daily ad-hoc basis. 

Mitsutoshi Nobuta, Drone Project Director, who leads a team of strong 15 individuals at ANA Holdings Digital Lab explains that their projects are outstanding and are useful to the wider society.

The holding group is also in close partnership with Takeda Pharmaceutical Company, Nagasaki University and the City of Goto in Nagasaki Prefecture. The design lab successfully undergo a test flight to deliver crucial pharmaceutical goods between Nagaski’s cut-off islands in 2021.

The flights conducted were flown using an electrical fixed-wing VTOL (Vertical Take-Off & Landing), which is developed by a world-leading German drone company, Wingcopter. 

The airline is conducted by operating the drone remotely and managing the drone tracking system. As of today, it takes about 45 minutes to make deliveries using a ferry and ground transportation system. In fact, drones could shave off 10 minutes of average delivery time compared to conventional transport. 

The trial itself required three individuals to operate the drones, 4 to observe the flight and 2 for coordination and ad-hoc tasks. Once regulations on drones are replaced, no such large teams are required and would take only 1 to operate the machine. 

Nobuta stated ambitiously: “We started the drone business with the intention of leveraging ANA Group’s strength and skillset as an airline. It is not an easy task for those who live on remote islands to get the medicines they need. It is our mission to put the service into practical use for all so that we can provide a solution for this social issue in Japan.”

African Adventures 

Nobuta wants to expand the group’s initiative beyond Japanese borders. After a trip to Zambia when the Japanese conglomerate was chosen to work jointly with Aerosense Inc, a Japanese drone manufacturer and  Japan’s National Center for Global Health and Medicine in 2019, to offer ANA’s expertise in aviation and ‘drone operations’ to stakeholders in Zambia.

The project in the landlocked country was to provide a drone transportation network for blood samples, which was a crucial part in curbing the spreading of HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis for instance.

The government of Zambia expressed satisfaction with the ANA Group and is committed to using drones until the pandemic unforcedly shelved projects slated for a 2020 launch. Nevertheless, this gave ANA Group a good grounding and will hopefully see a revival in this project soon.

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