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Cargo drone airline given the green light

Cargo drone airline given the green light
Cargo drone airline given the green light

The world’s first cargo drone airline, Dronamics, has made history. It has been assigned both IATA and ICAO designator codes to become the first cargo drone airline to have this type of authorization. It now has the same recognition as other international airlines. 

“IATA codes play a critical role in the aviation industry, serving as essential identifiers for airlines, their destinations, and cargo documents,” reads the announcement from Dronamics. It’s a leading developer and operator of large, long-range drones built specifically for cargo. According to the middle-mile transport company, their Black Swan is able to carry 350kg, at a distance of up to 2500 km. It claims to be up to 80% faster, 50% cheaper and up to 60% lower emissions than other modes of transport. This  type of technology is perfect for same-day shipping over long distances for a variety of industries. 

“Becoming the first cargo drone airline with both IATA and ICAO designator codes is a testament to Dronamics’ pioneering spirit and our vision for faster, cheaper and green air cargo for everyone, everywhere,” emphasizes the co-founder of Dronamics Svilen Rangelov. 

What does the future of last-mile delivery with drones look like?

Locate2u’s journalist Mia Lindeque sat down with humanitarian organization Philippines Flying Labs, which has been in the forefront of using drones for last-mile delivery in the health sector. During the COVID-19 pandemic the team also operated in rural areas delivering much needed vaccines to remote areas. They share their experience, what should drastically be changed, and how to navigate around the problems. 

Technical director for Philippines Flying Labs, Joel Cruz, takes a break from his daily responsibilities, which include being a coordinator and engineer. To operate a drone in the Philippines, one requires a license. The operator of the drone, including the organization using the drone, must be licensed. In his free time, Cruz also trains tech enthusiasts how to safely operate drones. He believes the Philippines is the perfect place to use drones for last-mile delivery. “Our country is composed of 1700 islands. We used drones to deliver medicine between two islands down South. In a mountainous area, we have very bad roads.”

Is drone delivery cost-effective?

Speaking to Locate2u from a remote area in Italy, Philippines Flying Labs’ MD Heidi Sampang indicates that it all depends on the demand of a product. “Definitely if you plan it in the long run, in terms of the use and distribution, it will be cost-effective. If you plan to do it, you have to do it over a longer period of time. Just because of the places we chose, they are very isolated geographically. There are few people living in that area. The demand is not as high compared to a more urban area.

Sampang is a pediatrician and has been working in the humanitarian sector since 2005. She has also been to Haiti, China and Costa Rica to work in disaster areas. 

Can commercial drone delivery expand beyond the health sector?

The future of drone delivery is certainly expanding at a rapid rate. At the same time, as technology is moving in the right direction, traditional drivers are fearing they’ll be out of their jobs soon. Many experts who have spoken on this topic have all stressed the importance of both traditional and technology working side-by-side. 

Sampang is constantly interacting with these communities and understands their frustration and concerns. “I’m seeing the future of service delivery, but it won’t replace the existing infrastructure. That’s the fear of the community. They want to know are you replacing the local drivers, the local service providers? No, we are enhancing the service.” She repeatedly stresses the fact that it will be working “in conjunction” with the existing service delivery.”

Is drone delivery weather resistant? 

Drones are not yet water-resistant and therefore can’t render any work in colder temperatures for as long as it’s rainy, misty, or is hit by a storm.  “With the drones we use, we will be affected by rains. The drones we use are not designed to operate in the rain,” confirms Cruz. 

But it surely doesn’t mean that drones can’t be used in these areas. It’s still ideal for remote areas, including islands, where unpredicted rainfall can disrupt anyone’s plans. According to Sampang their drones can operate cargo of up to 2kg. Thus makes it ideal for the delivery of medicine. “We have delivered in rainy conditions. We catch a window. There is an hour that we can work.”

What is needed for drone delivery?

Philippines Flying Labs is one of the first companies to be given the green light by the Philippines’ Civil Aviation Authority to use drones for local delivery. They fly beyond the visual line of sight, to avoid collisions with manned aircrafts. “We were one of the first groups to be given that permit by our CAA. Right now, drone delivery is not that popular. We hope that it can be done in the mountainous areas and between islands. We don’t have regular drone deliveries yet,” said Cruz.

Using a drone for last-mile deliveries in remote areas like in the Philippines and in Africa, is ideal. In the local context of the Philippines, there are other problems they are facing, says Sampang.“In the remote areas there is not a lot of competition for airspace. They don’t have commercial planes and other flying permits. For us in the remote areas, we just have to watch out for local kites. The locals have big kites with large metal strings that can destroy our drones. This is the local context that we have to watch.”

What type of cargo can be used for drone delivery?

A combination of commercial and medical cargo can be delivered to rural or even densely populated areas. Sampang warns that if one only focuses on medical delivery, a business owner will be limiting his/her opportunities to make a profit. “The use of drones and the cost will be a bit exorbitant for the local community. If you start delivering documents, papers, cash and other things there will be a higher demand and interest in using drone delivery. It should be in conjunction with other service delivery.

Will pizzas and burgers be filling the sky soon? Sampang believes it is the future. “I think in the future at one point, drones will deliver pizza and also a blood bag because someone is bleeding.” 

How reliable is drone delivery?

As the engineer and operator of these drones, someone like Cruz needs to think about the safety and reliability. “It will increase more regular and reliable services. I would like to see more drone deliveries in the future.”  

Sampang agrees: “It will minimize human error just because you have that regular programming in your drone. It will be much faster, and more efficient. We just have to make sure that the servicing area has high demand for it and high volume to cover the cost.

What is stopping drone deliveries in e-commerce? 

Regulations. It seems like a straightforward solution to many problems with last-mile delivery in remote and densely populated areas, but it’s more complex than that. Cruz explains how strict these regulations are. “Before we can operate drones, we have so many rules that we have to comply with. It has to be accepted by our government. I think there is a need for drone delivery especially in underserved areas here in the Philippines. I hope some day the regulations will be eased, and more drone deliveries can take place.”

For Sampang it’s been a long and difficult journey to get her plan for drone delivery to take off. “I have been proposing this project for 5-years now. We haven’t been able to find the appropriate platform, just because of the cost. A faster, cheaper drone delivery service is not there yet. We haven’t seen any drone platform services here that are more affordable and acceptable from the local government perspective.”

About the author

Mia is a multi-award-winning journalist. She has more than 14 years of experience in mainstream media. She's covered many historic moments that happened in Africa and internationally. She has a strong focus on human interest stories, to bring her readers and viewers closer to the topics at hand.

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