Boeing has patented a design for an airplane that can pick up and carry containers in its belly, Popular Mechanics reported.
In the patent, the plane is able to lower itself onto a row of standardized shipping containers, grab them and take off with the cargo.
While trucking, shipping and rail have embraced the intermodal container and its cost savings, the aviation industry has not been as accepting of the technology.
“The inability of modern aircraft to efficiently transport a large number of intermodal containers has significantly limited expansion of aircraft transport. It should be noted that transportation not only includes carrying the intermodal containers to new locations but also loading and unloading the containers into aircraft. At the same time, new business strategies [e.g., just-in-time supply] and globalization of markets have created a strong demand for faster shipping, which often cannot be addressed by ships, trains, and/or trucks, yet demands lower costs, which cannot be realized using modern aircraft,” according to the patent.
“Cost savings from use of intermodal containers have not been realized in aircraft transportation. Standard intermodal containers proved to be too large and too heavy for modern aircraft. Even the largest cargo aircraft can only fit a few 20-foot containers. Use of 40-foot containers on modern aircraft is even less feasible,” Boeing wrote in the patent.
Boeing said an aircraft specifically designed to transport intermodal containers can provide new transportation modality not covered by the current high-priority fast options such as airfreight and low-priority slow options such as shipping by sea.