Pilotless Cargo Aircraft Takes Flight Over San Francisco Bay

While driverless cars are becoming a familiar sight in the Bay Area, a Silicon Valley-based company is now pushing boundaries by introducing the concept of pilotless planes.

In a groundbreaking event that unfolded over approximately 12 minutes, a Cessna 208B Caravan aircraft executed a takeoff, cruise, and landing just south of the San Francisco Bay Area without a single human on board. 

The pilotless aircraft is the brainchild of Robert Rose, the co-founder and CEO of Reliable Robotics. Rose’s background includes roles as Director of Flight Software at SpaceX and Senior Director of Autopilot at Tesla. Before establishing Reliable Robotics, he played a key role in developing flight software for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft, contributing to the first commercial mission to the International Space Station.

Several companies are innovating in autonomous and remote flight technology, aiming to enhance safety and efficiency in sectors from cargo transport to military applications. The Cessna Caravan, known for its 3,000-pound cargo capacity and ability to operate on short runways, is ideal for accessing remote areas. 

Reliable Robotics worked closely with Textron Aviation, the Cessna Caravan’s creator, and global aviation services company ASL Aviation Holdings. According to Textron’s Senior VP, Chris Hearne, Reliable’s successful flight of the pilotless Cessna 208 Caravan represents a milestone in bringing new technology to aviation.

Another innovative company working on developing revolutionary new technology for aircraft with Textron Aviation is Surf Air Mobility Inc. (NYSE:SRFM), the largest commuter airline in the US based on scheduled departures. Unlike Reliable Robotics, which is focused on transporting cargo, Surf Air Mobility is retrofitting Cessna Grand Caravans with fully electric and hybrid-electric engines for passenger air travel.

Surf Air Mobility Inc. (NYSE:SRFM) recently bolstered its financial position through the appointment of seasoned financial executive Oliver Reeves as CFO and additional access to capital via a $35.2 million mandatory convertible debenture with GEM Global Yield. 

Surf Air Mobility and Textron Aviation Forge Path for Electrified Future

Through an exclusive relationship with Textron Aviation, the parent company of Cessna, Surf Air Mobility Inc. (NYSE:SRFM) is developing an electrified Cessna Grand Caravan EX. Deliveries of the first 20 Cessna Grand Caravan EX aircraft to Surf Air are anticipated to start in the first half of 2024. This collaboration is integral to Surf Air Mobility‘s initiative to develop and certify electrified powertrains for the Cessna Grand Caravan EX.

Surf Air Mobility has committed to acquiring up to 150 Cessna Grand Caravan EX aircraft, with an initial order for 100 aircraft and an option for an additional 50. These aircraft will undergo upgrades to incorporate Surf Air Mobility‘s proprietary electric or hybrid-electric powertrain technology once certified.

Through this exclusive arrangement, Surf Air Mobility aims to make electrified aircraft widely accessible, offering benefits such as lower costs and reduced emissions on a large scale. The company will also serve as the exclusive provider of specific battery electric and hybrid electric powertrain technology for the Cessna Grand Caravan to Textron Aviation.

Surf Air Mobility envisions deploying both electric and hybrid-electric Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft across its network, connecting more regional airports with short-haul direct service. This initiative aligns with the goal of building a regional mass transport platform to sustainably link communities across the US.

Adding Global Revenue Channels in 2024

Surf Air Mobility has already signed significant agreements to develop and deploy its electric powertrains to airlines across the globe. 

On January 4, the company announced a monumental supply agreement with Safarilink, an airline connecting domestic scheduled flights to destinations within Kenya and Tanzania, and Yellow Wings Air Services, a Kenyan air operator that serves over 500 airfields throughout the East Africa region.

The deal will see Surf Air Mobility upgrade existing Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft in Africa with its proprietary electrified powertrain technology, marking a monumental milestone to expand its global footprint. 

Late last year, the company signed a similar agreement with Azul, the largest airline in Brazil, to electrify its existing fleet of  27 Cessna Caravans.

Surf Air Mobility’s first generation fully-electric powertrain technology is targeted to reduce direct operating costs by as much as 50% and eliminate 100% of direct carbon emissions.

Expanding Commuter Air Service in the US

Apart from its electrification plans, Surf Air Mobility Inc. (NYSE:SRFM) is also making significant strides in its effort to transform regional air travel in the United States.

In December, the company announced a partnership with Purdue University to initiate a subsidized scheduled commuter air service between West Lafayette / Purdue University Airport (LAF) and Chicago O’Hare Airport (ORD), targeting an early Q2 2024 start date. 

This program, operated by Surf Air Mobility’s subsidiary Southern Airways Express, aims to provide Purdue University’s community and West Lafayette residents with up to four daily flights, offering faster and easier access to the world through one of America’s busiest airports. Funded by Purdue University, this initiative is a unique adaptation of the Essential Air Service (EAS) model, traditionally reliant on federal funding, demonstrating a novel approach to regional air mobility.

Just weeks later, Surf Air Mobility announced a similar agreement with the Williamsport Municipal Airport Authority to launch subsidized scheduled air service between Williamsport Regional Airport (IPT) and Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) from May 2024. This service aims to revitalize air travel in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, targeting ten weekly flights that connect the local community to major air networks. Funded through local grants and community donations, this program marks the first commercial flights at Williamsport in over two years and does not rely on federal subsidies.

These initiatives underscore Surf Air Mobility’s commitment to enhancing regional connectivity. As the largest commuter airline in the US by scheduled departures, with its subsidiaries Southern Airways and Mokulele Airlines, Surf Air Mobility is at the forefront of innovating regional air travel, leveraging underutilized airports and forming strategic partnerships to bridge communities with major air travel networks.

Click on this link or read their corporate presentation to learn more about Surf Air Mobility Inc. (NYSE:SRFM).

Featured Image @ Surf Air Mobility


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