Terra Drone Makes Major U.S. Move With Aloft Investment

A leading Japanese drone and advanced air mobility company has made its first major move to enter the U.S. market and further its efforts to create a global air traffic control system for unmanned aircraft known as Unmanned Aerial System Traffic Management, UTM.

Terra Drone Corporation has made a major investment in Silver Spring, MD-based Aloft Technologies Inc., becoming its largest shareholder, the companies announced Tuesday.

Indeed development of a global UTM system has taken on increased urgency as the number of low-altitude aircraft such as drones, vertical takeoff and landing craft and short-hop air taxis grows. They typically occupy altitudes far below commercial aircraft at 4,000 feet and lower.

“Above populated areas there are loads of restrictions to secure safety,” said Yuki Ueno, executive officer at Terra Drone in an interview. “But if we have such a system like UTM it not only gives us the opportunity to do beyond visual line of sight or flying in a bit more high risk areas that all can be more digitized and automated and managed properly by UTM. Then it allows like more congested flights and more relevant, repetitive or more dense flights in a safe and efficient way. But without UTM we can’t do that.”

Ueno, who also joins the Aloft board of directors under this new deal, notes with companies such as Joby and Archer Aviation planning to launch advance air mobility, or AAM, services to coincide with the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, development of UTM becomes even more urgent.

Aloft previously secured investments from Boeing’s Corporate Venture Capital and Travelers Insurance and is a top provider of Federal Aviation Administration-certified umanned aircraft system services.

It’s that sort of expertise that led Terra Drone to invest in Aloft and make it an affiliate company,

“Aloft has over 80% share in the market, which is quite dominant, I would say,” explained Ueno. “It’s not a big company. It’s like only maybe 15 people or so, but it’s a really solid and focused company and we believe the founders are really visionary people.”

The investment in Aloft is in line with Terra Drone’s ultimate goal of creating a global UTM system, in large part, by aligning with companies specializing in the technology.

Belgium-based UTM provider Unifly became a Terra Drone affiliate in 2023.

A mandatory UTM system is in place in 27 European nations according to Ueno and now the pace for a standardized air traffic system for UAS is picking up speed in the U.S.

Last July the FAA released Innovate28, its advanced air mobility implementation plan aimed at enabling advanced air mobility systems in time for the 2028 Summer Olympics.

Described by the FAA as a “living document,” it will be updated periodically. Key features of Innovate28 are:

· Providing air traffic control through existing systems

· Use of existing airports and heliports

· Establishing pre-determined routes

The creation of Innovate28 is a testament to the rate at which UAM is growing in the U.S.—especially as compared with Terra Drone’s home nation of Japan.

Developing a UTM is an important adjunct to Terra Drone’s other major activities.

“We started doing UTM back in 2016,” said Ueno. “We also did a lot of other industry verticals like providing drone-based solutions such as surveying or inspections, serving for instance, the oil and gas major companies worldwide, the largest energy company in Japan and also the largest energy company in the world. Aramco is our shareholder and client.”

It’s all been lucrative for Terra Drone, one of the top two drone service operators in the world, but the company had yet to crack the U.S. market—a long time goal now reached by finding the right partner.

Based on FAA figures, there are currently about 2.4 times as many registered drones and 62 times as many registered manned aircraft in the U.S. than in Japan, with the expectations of further growth within the next four years.

“It’s really one of the largest markets in the world. That’s why we always wanted to go into the U.S. market,” said Ueno.

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