Wingcopter opening type certification process in Japan with ITOCHU


Wingcopter’s application to begin type certification of its delivery drone in Japan has been accepted. 

The news marks the first time a foreign company’s drone and the first time a fixed-wing drone has been accepted under the unmanned aircraft class-1 type certification by the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB). The process is being conducted with the support of ITOCHU Corporation, a long-term partner and investor in Wingcopter. 

Florian-Michael Adolf, Head of Certification at Wingcopter, said: “This milestone represents significant progress towards realising commercial drone delivery in Japan and beyond. At Wingcopter, we are striving for type certification, as it underscores our commitment to safety of our product, as well as the diligence and professionalism of our entire team. We would like to thank our partners at ITOCHU for supporting us in this process with their extensive knowledge, network, and resources.”

Upon successful type certification, Wingcopter will be granted permission to conduct flights equivalent to JACAB’s Level 4. This refers to flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) in populated areas. 

Just how densely populated? The official Japanese definition of densely inhabited districts is as follows: 

Districts are designated in units of census basic unit blocks, and census enumeration districts if there are several census enumeration districts in a census basic unit block, and should meet the following criteria, in principle.

1) A district containing basic unit blocks, etc. with a population density of 4,000 or more per square kilometre, such districts being adjacent to each other in a municipality

2) A district consisting of the above adjacent basic unit blocks, etc. whose population is 5,000 or more at the time of the population census of Japan.

Type certification would make Wingcopter one of the first companies able set up commercial BVLOS operations in Japan. With its ageing population and secluded landscapes, including many inhabited islands, the country is considered one of the world’s largest future markets for drone deliveries.

Masaharu Sato, Deputy General Manager, Aerospace Department at ITOCHU Corporation, added: “We see great potential in Wingcopter’s delivery drone to make everybody’s life better and are delighted with the promising progress in realising this value. It is our honour to collaborate with the dedicated professionals at Wingcopter, led by the management team around Tom, Jonathan and Ansgar. We look forward to continuing this exciting journey together.”

The partners aim to use the Wingcopter 198 to build drone delivery networks and services that can provide an air bridge transporting urgently needed goods quickly above challenging terrain. 

Exactly what those networks will look like is still being decided with the regulator. Wingcopter confirmed to us, once details of technical requirements are decided, JCAB will provide “issue papers” with the agreed requirements — similar to the FAA’s Airworthiness Criteria — which are legally binding. 

This process therefore differs from a conventional “approval” and offers the manufacturer a stronger legal commitment once the formal requirements have been defined. Which, despite the effort, is a big benefit to Wingcopter in the long run rather than relying on exemptions.

In addition to efforts in Japan, Wingcopter is currently undergoing the FAA type certification process in the USA.