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Lufthansa looks to expand into freight drones
Frankfurt: Germany’s Lufthansa is expanding into the drones business, using skills derived from the airline business to train pilots and maintain the remote-controlled machines that have to date found largely military use. Chief Executive Carsten Spohr foresees a boom in private drones used to transport freight. Despite the huge airline’s difficulties with striking pilots, there are no plans as yet for pilotless passenger planes. To date there have been strict limitations on the use of unmanned aircraft in Europe. In Germany, drones may weigh at most 25 kilogrammes and must fly below 100 metres.
The airspace around airports is closed to them. In addition, the pilot must have the aircraft in view at all times, making parcel deliveries impractical.
The logistics company Deutsche Post/DHL still has to have each individual flight approved for its parcel deliveries to the North Sea island of Juist, as the drones are not controlled by sight. There are also smaller aircraft weighing less than five kilogrammes used for land surveying purposes.
Permits for these are easier to obtain, as they are seen officially as models.
By contrast, the United States has designated several test areas, for example for agricultural purposes, and investors are starting to see private drones as “the next big thing.”
US aviation authorities plan to draw up regulations by the end of the year for the entire country, with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx declaring safe integration of drones into US airspace a priority. E-commerce company Amazon is pushing strongly for drones to be licensed to deliver its parcels.
Spohr likes to refer to Lufthansa as the world’s largest aviation concern, reflecting the fact that the company does rather more for its annual turnover of 30 billion euros ($33 billion) than fly passengers and freight all over the world. Lufthansa maintains around one tenth of the world’s aircraft and prepares a third of all meals served above the clouds. The company provides engineering and managerial services to clients.
These subsidiaries provide stable profits and offer better business prospects than the hotly contested passenger market.
Lufthansa Technik — the aircraft maintenance subsidiary — recently concluded an exclusive global contract for the maintenance of engines made by the US giant General Electric (GE) that have yet to come onto the market.