This article is part of the “Logistics of the Future” series looking at the best logistics startups today.
Air cargo: Don’t think of it as the “little brother” to passenger planes. While the industry may be in the shadow of passenger airlines or maritime logistics, the rapid rise of e-commerce has seen air cargo grow in size and importance over the past few years. The industry accounts for an average of 51.2 million tonnes being moved every year, and that number is only increasing.
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), air cargo demand grew by 3.5 percent in 2018 as measured by freight-tonne kilometers, and the IATA’s latest Business Confidence Survey said airlines expect freight volumes to continue increasing in 2019. Demand is such that Boeing is increasing production of the Boeing 767 Freighter to three airplanes per month in 2020 – their third rate-hike on the model, which represents a doubling of production since 2016. Not only are traditional air cargo methods increasing, but NASA is also estimating that there will be 2.6 million commercial drones in the skies by 2020.
Air cargo is innovating and moving ahead rapidly, but it should be noted that it is still by far the most expensive method of shipping: Air cargo accounts for just 1 percent of global shipping by volume but 35 percent of it by cost. Startups in this space are always devising new ways to combat such costs and boost efficiency for the benefit of both the consumer and the logistics/transport company.
This article highlights some of the most revolutionary air cargo startups trying to make that happen in the air cargo space today.
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While many maritime shipping startups have already dived into digital booking platforms, the air cargo industry has lagged behind when it comes to booking transparency. That all changed in 2018 when SkySpace released their online trading platform which, with its unique partnerships of over 100 connected airlines, is attempting to bring new pricing transparency into the air cargo industry.
For smaller and medium-sized freight forwarders, this is a game-changer. Previously, this industry was ruled by big brokers, handshake deals and even large freight forwarders who decided the pricing for themselves. With the introduction of SkySpace’s completely neutral platform and routes from 50,000 flights, smaller freight forwarders can finally have the chance to compete with bigger players.
Company: SkySpace Cargo
Founders: Gabriela Gomez, Toby Raworth
Headquarters: Miami, United States
Learn more about SkySpace Cargo:
- “SkySpace Cargo responds to growing global demand with international expansion” – Digital Journal
- “Logistics Startup Brings Transparency, Efficiency to Air Cargo Booking” – American Journal of Transportation
Last-mile delivery has always been one of the costliest aspects of the logistics industry. And with the introduction of commercial drones, now it has become one of the most competitive aspects for drone delivery startups. But Matternet has set itself apart with its drone delivery technology: It was selected by the FAA to test unmanned aerial networks in the U.S. – a rare feat, considering only ten programs in the country have been allowed by the FAA to run these trials.
Designed exclusively for transportation, Matternet operates by connecting smart drones, cloud software and safe ground stations to an intuitive mobile app — and they aim to do it at a fraction of the cost of any other current method of transportation. They aim to deliver everything from critical health supplies to areas in need, to common items such as prescription drugs or milk from the grocery store. A $16 million Boeing-led investment in 2018 shows that this startup is well on its way to success as a pioneer in the drone industry.
Founders: Andreas Raptopoulos, Arturo Pelayo, Dimitar Pachov, Paola Santana
Headquarters: San Francisco, California, United States
Learn more about Matternet:
- “Autonomous delivery drone startup Matternet raises $16 million round led by Boeing’s venture arm” – TechCrunch
- “Meet Matternet, The Startup That’s Using Drones To Change The World” – Dronethusiast
Imagine an airfreight economy in which every aircraft was flown autonomously, fuel efficient and could land on short and unpaved runways. DRONAMICS wants to make all of this and more possible through its new type of cargo airplane, The Black Swan. This new aircraft can transport 350 KG at a distance of 2,500 kilometers (or 1,550 miles) for a cost that’s 50 percent or more lower than other airplanes. It can also be monitored and managed completely remotely via satellite.
By developing drone ports, making use of small airfields and training local personnel as drone and logistics operators, DRONAMICS believes it can transform the air cargo industry, and economy, completely. Svilen and Konstantin Rangelov, the founding brothers of the startup, say the final Black Swan model will cost less than $100,000. Their goal is not only to produce the aircraft but also to operate them together with local airlines in emerging domestic markets in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, regions that have plenty of potential in the air cargo and drone industry.
Founders: Konstantin Rangelov, Svilen Rangelov
Headquarters: Sofia, Bulgaria
Learn more about DRONAMICS:
- “Logistics Startup of the Month: DRONAMICS” – Transmetrics Blog
- “Bulgaria’s First New Plane in Decades Is a Freakishly Strong Drone” – Wired
For those in the air cargo industry, there’s almost nothing worse than being told that a flight is delayed – a recurring problem which ultimately can create delays in the delivery of goods overall. The Swiss startup Assaia is aiming to reduce the number of delayed flights and improve turnaround time for both cargo and passenger flights by changing how ground crews and airports operate. Its AI technology generates timestamps, predictions of key turnaround events, and preventative hazard alerts.
Air carrier delays caused by crews servicing planes accounted for nearly 4.5 percent of all airplanes running late in December 2018. If Assaia’s machine learning and GPU technology can reduce this number, airlines can see a boost in profits while cargo shipments get to their destinations on time.
Founders: Max M. Diez
Headquarters: Zurich, Switzerland / Palo Alto, California
Social Media: LinkedIn
Learn more about Assaia:
- “Flying High Again: Airplane Turnarounds Take a Spin with AI” – NVIDIA Blog
- “IAG Cargo selects finalists for Hangar 51 start-up programme” – Air Cargo Week
“It takes a forwarder hours to get quotes from airlines, bookings aren’t made online, documents aren’t digital and communication is asynchronous,” says cargo.one co-founder, Oliver T. Neumann. These are the problems his airfreight digital booking platform is aiming to solve by digitizing the air cargo booking process, simplifying the process for both buyers and sellers of air cargo capacity.
After a new round of funding was announced in December 2018, cargo.one is aiming to use this investment to partner with more airlines across the globe, add station-wide, multi-user views to its platform, and add a “save this quote for later” booking feature. With the goal of expanding across the globe, this startup will be one to watch in the next few years.
Founders: Mike Rötgers, Moritz Claussen, Oliver T. Neumann
Headquarters: Berlin, Germany
Learn more about cargo.one:
- “JAS forwarding to use cargo.one to digitally book capacity” – Air Cargo World
- “Cargo.one raises funds with Lufthansa Cargo one of the investors” – aircargo news
The future of air cargo is here, and it has arrived in the form of drone delivery. In the U.S. alone, this type of delivery increased from a $40 million industry in 2012 to $1 billion in just five years. Founded in 2013, Flirtey became the first service of its kind to complete an FAA-approved drone delivery in the U.S. – and in 2018, they were named to the CNBC Disruptor 50 list, an annual ranking of the most ambitious and innovative companies in the world.
Flirtey hopes to dominate the entire industry by providing everything from food and retail services to medical and e-commerce delivery. They’re even aiming to save lives with a partnership that will launch the first automated external defibrillator (AED) sent by drones in the U.S. As the industry grows ever-closer to becoming legal around the world, businesses will be able to partner with Flirtey to use its drones in a new logistics market and further drive sales.
Founders: Ahmed Haider, Matthew Sweeny, Tom Bass
Headquarters: Reno, Nevada, United States
Learn more about Flirtey:
- “Flirtey Eyes Reno Deliveries by 2020 After First Multi-Drone Test Milestone” – Reno Gazette Journal
- “CNBC 2018 Disruptor 50: Flirtey” – CNBC
Avision is a drone flight management SaaS (software-as-a-service) solution which provides safe drone routes for commercial operators, startups, and enterprise companies. Their “Flight Suite” allows companies to integrate drones into their workflows and implement custom use-cases such as on-demand package delivery and custom sensor capabilities for different domains including structure inspection, agriculture, and military.
In 2017, Avision Robotics was picked to be in the 21st class of 500 Startups, an early-stage VC fund, and seed accelerator, and was chosen by TechCrunch as one of their favorite startups named in that class. In the near future, Avision plans to widen their services to include express courier delivery of documents and packages by drones, prompt delivery of food from restaurants and goods from stores.
Company: Avision Robotics
Founders: Stas Mozolyuk, Alex Mozolyuk, Dmitriy Yavorskiy, Vitaly Baranovsky
Headquarters: Mountain View, California, USA
Learn more about Avision Robotics:
- “Our favorite startups from 500 Startups’ 21st class” – TechCrunch
- “Avision Robotics Partners with NASA and Nevada for Unmanned Traffic Management” – PRWeb.com
Want to make a sale and delivery, but don’t want to deal with the hassle of piloting drones? Meet Connect Robotics, the drone startup that takes care of all the delivery work for the client, from flight planning to weather check and collision avoidance (including piloting the drone). The only thing the client needs to worry about is paying for the ride.
Connect Robotics has been the first to make autonomous deliveries in Portugal, and in 2018, Connect Robotics created an award-winning project which delivered medicine by drones to remote regions of the country. The startup, founded in 2015, is currently operating its autonomous drone deliveries only in Portugal, and as a founding member of the Global UTM Association, is actively working to safely integrate drones into the international airspace.
Company: Connect Robotics
Founders: Raphael Stanzani
Headquarters: Porto, Portugal
Learn more about Connect Robotics:
- “Last-Mile Delivery via Drone” – TechXplore
- “Portugal is a 4-year ‘success story’ for European Space Agency” – Portugal Startups
As long as we’re talking about the future of air cargo, we surely can’t forget to mention… [pause for dramatic effect]…“The Dragon.” After all, this spacecraft, designed by Elon Musk’s space startup SpaceX, was the first commercial spacecraft in history to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and safely return it to Earth.
SpaceX is creating incredible new potential for a whole new logistics sector: Space Cargo. With the startup’s early success in this industry, we may be able to soon expect an increased number of cargo flights to space and at much more affordable rates. As more private companies start competing in this realm, it will be interesting to see how this industry evolves in the coming years.
Founders: Elon Musk
Headquarters: Hawthorne, California, United States
Learn more about SpaceX:
- “Watch SpaceX launch the first private moon landing mission” – TechCrunch
- “SpaceX Dragon Delivers Cargo (and Christmas Treats) to Space Station” – Space.com
Do you know any other outstanding Air Cargo Startups that did not make it to the article? Let us know in the comments!