Canada’s federal transport department has signed a C$1.3m (US$970,000) deal with a startup cargo airline to begin test flights of its self-flying plane. 

Transport Canada and the Innovative Solutions Canada fund have bought a self-flying plane from Ribbit, an airline developing software for non-crewed freight flights. 

The company has completed over 200 hours of hands-free flight on a two-seat aeroplane and has developed programmes to fly autonomously. 

Ribbit will provide the plane, along with a remote crew and maintenance to support cargo flights in Canada’s rural north for one year. 

As well as offering a solution for rural supply chains, Transport Canada will use the data it collects to help inform future aviation regulations, standards and policy.

Ribbit CEO Carl Pigeon explained: “Many rural and remote areas are served by larger aeroplanes that fly infrequently. Ribbit takes a smaller aircraft and uses autonomy to drastically change the unit economics of that plane. This lets us offer reliable next-day or two-day service and improve supply chains.”

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Formed in 2020, Ribbit was granted a Special Flight Operations Certificate in 2022 authorising uncrewed flight. 

The company said it is initially focused on shipping time-sensitive goods to northern Canada, “where 54 million kilograms of food are sold annually”.

COO Jeremy Wang said: “We have been working with government, community and private partners to ensure this technology will serve a real need. We are excited to enable a future where anybody can ship and receive goods quickly and reliably no matter where they are.”