A helicopter that flies without a human pilot? Switzerland-based drone company SwissDrones is working on it — and it just secured a seven-figure funding round to help pay for it.
The tiny startup with headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland plus an office in Seattle, Washington this month announced that it has secured additional 7-figure funding in a round led by DiamondStream Partners, which is a venture capital firm focusing on aviation and aerospace. Neither parties would provide specifics on the exact funding amount, but the two say the money is there to help accelerate the development of its uncrewed helicopter, as well as expand operations around the world.
A company spokesperson said the 7-figures would help SwissDrones “expand its market reach globally and introduce further product innovations,” which also includes additional hiring plans.
Today the company is relatively small, with only about 20 employees, according to a company spokesperson. But the company is also actively hiring, with more than a half-dozen open roles posted to LinkedIn right now, including drone mechanics and drone pilots. Most of the roles are based in Switzerland, and many also require German fluency (though the drone pilot job only requires English-speaking).
What are SwissDrones aircraft like?
SwissDrones’ uncrewed helicopters are primarily designed for use cases such as inspection, surveillance and public safety, and are designed to be flown beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and for long-range, multi-hour missions throughout the day and need. Given the no-need for a human pilot, SwissDrones says its offering is safer and more cost-effective than traditional helicopter operations. Though, these drone-like helicopters won’t be carrying humans. They’re capable of carrying payloads of up to 40 kg (88 pounds), meaning they’re primarily designed to fly high-end sensors.
Unlike the quadcopter style drones, SwissDrones uses a unique twin-rotor aircraft design.
There’s an environmental component too. SwissDrones claims that its aircraft emit up to 95 percent fewer CO2 emissions than crewed helicopters.
A step ahead of EASA regulations
If the name SwissDrones sounds familiar, that might be because the company was a major newsmaker when it announced that it had obtained a European drone operator license, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Light UAS Operator Certificate (LUC). EASA is an airspace agency responsible for aircraft type certification, design approvals and preparing regulations, which are then adopted by the European Commission.
SwissDrones received such a certificate from Transport Malta, which is the authority for transport in Malta. Its the first ever EASA Light UAS Operator Certificate (LUC) issued specifically by Transport Malta, and it’s the six such certificate to be issued in Europe as a whole. That certificate allows SwissDrones to self-authorize flight operations of its SDO50 V2 unmanned helicopters for many types of beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations. It is considered the highest authorization achievable under European drone regulations.
And while the certificate was issued in Malta, it clears SwissDrones to self-authorize flight operations of its aircraft across all EASA countries.
Outside of Europe, SwissDrones also has a significant U.S. approval. Its SDO 50 uncrewed helicopter platform holds a Special Airworthiness Certificate (SAC-EC) from the Federal Aviation Administration, and a spokesperson for SwissDrones said to expect that additional regulatory approvals will be announced in the coming months.
Where SwissDrones operates now
SwissDrones is not in development — it’s already here. The company was founded in 2013 and today operates in 13 countries across Asia, Europe, and North America, including USA, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, China and Australia.
SwissDrones makes money through a few avenues, including sales of its drones, operator training services, maintenance contracts, and sometimes even flight operations as a service depending on the geography.
Still, SwissDrones is relatively small. Customers can choose to either work with SwissDrones staff to operate the drones for their use cases. Otherwise, they can purchase (or lease) their own SDO 50 copter to run their own flights. A company spokesperson said just over 30 units of the SDO 50 have been sold and delivered worldwide to date.
And as far as where SwissDrones are operated, Malta is a big spot. Because the EASA rules apply to, well, EASA countries, and Switzerland isn’t actually an EASA member state (and had not ratified the EU drone laws before 2023), Malta has grown to become a major site for SwissDrones’ test flights.
“European law required SwissDrones to have a legal entity with the European Union to obtain the operator certificate since Switzerland is not an EU member state and had not ratified the EU drone laws before 2023.
“Malta turned out to be the place of choice given the access to ideal flight test environments and the proactivity of their civil aviation authority in supporting innovation in the UAS domain,” according to a company spokesperson.