During the TIACA Executive Summit held in San Francisco, three startups were recognised for their innovative and sustainable projects at the sustainability awards. The group’s annual event, which awarded Peli BioThermal and Nepal Flying Labs in 2020, presented United Cargo with its corporate winner award for its Eco-Skies program. In the small business category, startup XFret took home the US$10,000 cash prize for its innovative in-cabin cargo solution. Simon Foucart-Gaudy, startup co-founder, gives us a rundown of the company and its winning project.
Can you give us a brief background of XFret?
XFret was born 2 years ago. The idea of developing a product to allow airlines to exploit their empty seats came to us before the Covid-19 crisis. However, when we saw the impact of this crisis and the players rethinking their business models, we embarked on the project in order to provide a solution to support the sustainable development of the sector.
We had the opportunity to exchange and be advised by industrial players and airlines. We also tested a first prototype on an aircraft at the Toulouse Airport, allowing us to evaluate the integration of the product in a cabin and in the operating time.
The design of the latest version of our product was carried out mainly in a mechanical laboratory at the Icam Engineering School in Toulouse with the advice of airworthiness experts from ENAC and the EASA innovation unit. We are now also working with a DOA design office partner to support the certification activities.
Since January, XFret has been supported by the French Transport Innovation Agency, allowing us to have the support of the French DGAC (Direction Générale de l’Aviation Civile) for the certification of our product and its integration in the aeronautical ecosystem.
Recently, we won the TIACA Air Cargo Sustainability Awards in San Francisco. This award underlines the relevance of the innovative cargo-in-cabin solution we are developing with the objective of making air cargo a more sustainable market.
Can you tell more about the product that won XFret the sustainability award?
In order to meet the growing demand for air cargo and to reduce the financial losses caused by empty seats on passenger aircraft (20% empty seats on average per flight for the past 10 years), we have developed an innovative cargo container that can be placed on empty seats of passenger aircraft.
Our container has been designed to be compatible with operating times (only 6 minutes to load 20% of a SA and 13 minutes for 20% of a WB) as well as with passenger safety and comfort. At the same time, our solution optimises the environmental efficiency of the aircraft by 2 to 6% per kilo transported.
The use of XFret containers makes it possible to easily adapt to the filling of each flight. It is a much cheaper and less time-consuming alternative to aircraft conversion or other current cargo transport solutions.
How long did you work on the prototype and when is the target commercial launch?
We have prototyped different parts of our product throughout its development and have also made various models. Today, we are actively working on the certification phase and have planned a first market launch for next winter.
Talking about sustainability, what would be the tangible ways that stakeholders can really push forward their net-zero goals?
Reinforcing open innovation actions between large groups and start-ups seems to be a good solution to implement more easily new sustainable solutions. We also see today a real willingness of the players to put SAF into operation while waiting for the arrival of hydrogen on a larger scale. In line with the Fly Net Zero 2050 study, a better load factor would also reduce emissions. In this case, the use of cargo in the cabin at the same time as passengers would allow this better use.
How much was left of the prize money? Where are you planning to get more funding?
The cash prize for the TIACA Sustainability Awards was $10,000. We plan to fund the project through fundraising and public grants related to aeronautics funding, innovation and sustainable transports. Having received proposals during the TIACA summit, we are now open to investment proposals.
What’s the next move?
We have started to work actively with the French DGAC on a proposal for a more precise definition of cargo in cabin regulations, in order to propose this definition to the various aviation regulatory bodies. After this phase of proposing a definition of the regulation, the next step is to move forward with the certification process while continuing to work with stakeholders.
The EU will no longer allow cargo in passenger cabins from August, the aviation safety agency declared. Will this new rule directly affect your product?
We see this end of the deviation as a real recognition of the need to implement certified solutions designed for the transport of cargo in the cabin in terms of safety and operation. Like the flexible container solutions found in regional aircraft such as the ATR or Dash.