Third-party logistics provider Flexport, flush with fresh investor funding, has tentatively ordered two large autonomous cargo jets with a 100-ton payload from startup aircraft manufacturer Natilus, part of a strategic effort to enhance customer service by directly controlling more transport capacity.

San Diego-based Natilus on Wednesday announced $6 billion in advance purchase commitments of more than 440 aircraft from Flexport plus Kenyan all-cargo airline Astral Aviation; Volatus Aerospace, a drone services provider; Dymond Group, a management services and consulting company with an aerospace division based in Ottawa, Ontario; and Aurora International, an aerospace company developing autonomous aircraft products and services in the Kingdom of Eswatini, formerly Swaziland. 

Flexport, which also has an option to buy a third robot freighter, is the only one of the group that disclosed its purchase volume. The letter of intent it signed, however, is not a firm commitment to purchase yet. Aircraft manufacturing has high barriers to entry and potential customers will likely want to see concrete production and technical capability before signing contracts…

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