UPS, FedEx partner airline agrees to buy 20 pilotless cargo planes in $134M deal

Cargo airline Ameriflight says it is purchasing Natilus Kona planes

Ameriflight, a cargo airline that partners with shipping giants UPS, FedEx and DHL, has announced a $134 million deal to buy 20 autonomous aircraft from Natilus as part of its push to build the "air cargo network of the future." 

The feeder services company based in Dallas said in a statement that the new planes will "aid in modernizing Ameriflight’s fleet and allow the offering of a high quality and differentiated product in a part of the industry seeing exponential growth." 

"Natilus’ technology is at the forefront of autonomous innovation and provides a lower cost of operation, while remaining well suited in capabilities for the customers in our corner of the industry," said Ameriflight President and COO Alan Rusinowitz.

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Ameriflight says "The Natilus fleet of carbon fiber, blended-wing-body designed cargo aircraft offer a 60% reduction to cost of operations and cuts carbon emissions by half.  

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Ameriflight to buy Natilus Kona cargo airplanes

Ameriflight said with the Natilus Kona is "designing and producing the world’s first autonomous aircraft for efficient and sustainable freight transport." The aircraft, which is pilotless, can carry 3.8 tons of cargo, it added. (Ameriflight)

"The Natilus Kona, which Ameriflight is eyeing, is a 3.8-ton payload short-haul feeder uncrewed aerial vehicle," it added. "It will be used to support the company’s increased business opportunities, primarily for Ameriflight’s expedited supply chain services." 

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Ameriflight Beech 99 aircraft takes off

An Ameriflight Beech 99 is seen climbing out after takeoff with its undercarriage retracting.  (aviation-images.com/Universal Images Group via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The deal with Natilus, which is based in San Diego, is valued at $134 million, according to the website Freightwaves. 

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A UPS truck

Ameriflight is partnered with companies such as the United Parcel Service Inc. (Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Natilus co-founder and CEO Aleksey Matyushev also told the news website that it expects to begin Kona flight tests late next year and customer deliveries by 2026. 

Ameriflight says it has "grown from a small air charter and cargo service carrier to an international operator with 14 bases, 1,500 weekly departures, and 200 destinations," with "more than 500 employees including over 150 pilots and over 100 aircraft."