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High altitude connectivity innovation receives funding boost

A consortium of Japanese businesses has committed to invest 100 million US dollars in AALTO, Airbus’ high-altitude drone subsidiary.

AALTO manufactures the Zephyr, which it calls the world-leading high altitude platform station (or, HAPS). It describes the solution as “flying for months at a time in the stratosphere, [able to] transform into a multi-functional tower in the sky to provide low latency 5G direct-to-device mobile connectivity services.” Zephyr is also designed for “monitoring, tracking, sensing and detection,” leveraging Airbus’ Strat Observer product.

According to the company, the consortium is led by mobile operator NTT DOCOMO, while also including the Development Bank of Japan. A spokesperson said: “The investment accelerates industrial and commercial roadmap for Zephyr and establishes a strategic alliance for HAPS commercialisation in Asia.

“The Zephyr is a solar-powered, unmanned aircraft that is manufactured in Farnborough, UK. It can provide connectivity and observation services from the stratosphere.”

Chief executive officer of AALTO, Samer Halawi, said: “This is a landmark investment for AALTO. It is the natural next step in the roadmap of the company’s targeted entry-into-service in 2026, as we industrialise and commercialise our technology.

“With world leaders in aviation and connectivity as shareholders, AALTO now has the combination of technological expertise and global reach to capitalise on the growth opportunities in substantial total addressable markets across connectivity and earth observation.”

Halawi continued: “This investment comes as AALTO moves into its next phase of development. This includes launching several customer missions over the coming year, establishing launch and landing sites for Zephyr, and advancing our certification process.

“We are excited to forge a new frontier in sustainable connectivity and earth observation from the stratosphere, while generating significant value for all our stakeholders.”