Swiss WorldCargo’s Drone Vision Closer to Realization

Swiss WorldCargo, U.S. drone provider Matternet and Swiss Post have jointly begun a drone testing program. In a ‘learning by doing’ process the partnering companies are examining the specific uses of drone technology and analyzing the cost-effectiveness of this mode of air transportation as an integral part of the supply chain.

Launched the first drone flight in Bellechasse (l > r): Oliver Evans, Chief Cargo Officer SWISS, Andreas Raptopolous co-founder of Matternet and Dieter Bambauer, Head of Swiss Post Logistic  / courtesy Swiss WorldCargo.
Launched the first drone flight in Bellechasse (l > r): Oliver Evans, Chief Cargo Officer SWISS, Andreas Raptopolous co-founder of Matternet and Dieter Bambauer, Head of Swiss Post Logistic / courtesy Swiss WorldCargo.

The starting whistle for the flight of the first drone went off last week at the Aerodrome de Bellechasse, half way between Zurich and Geneva. In this rather remote area of Switzerland, Swiss WorldCargo together with U.S. partner Matternet and the Swiss Post started first trials for the commercial use of drones. Globally speaking it is a very unique pilot-project initiated by a cargo carrier in cooperation with a postal services provider and a drone manufacturer. By joining forces and bringing in their specific expertise, the trio aims to gain extensive experience and knowledge in this rather new field of last mile transportation of commercial goods.

Oliver Evans propelling the case for drones
If all goes as planned, the first commercial drones could be deployed on selected routes as early as 2016, according to Oliver Evans, head of Swiss WorldCargo, who has been the main driver of this futuristic project from the very start. “At Swiss WorldCargo we can bring in some expertise together with U.S. manufacturer Matternet we have chosen the right technical partner and with Swiss Post on board we gain the support of one of our biggest customers, which is a natural partner for last mile deliveries. So it’s a perfect setting,” Mr. Evans enthusiastically explains.
Regarding a timeframe he admits that it might take a few years for commercial drones to fly around the Alps, it depends, not only on the results of the initial test series but mainly on solving pressing issues. They include security related matters, broad public acceptance, overcoming technical hurdles such as limited battery life, upping the transport capacity of the Matternet drones from one kilogram today to a double-digit level, and – particularly important – obtaining a regulatory framework that legalizes the commercial usage of the battery-powered vehicles.

Switzerland to become a Drone Capital?
Regarding the latter issue, Oliver is quite confident that the Swiss authorities will give their green light in a relatively short time. “Switzerland is supporting this project because the country is keen on being at the forefront of this new technology which will play a major role in the near future.” He goes on to say: “Now it’s up to the industry to prove the business cases, then the regulators will act, not the other way around.”

Option for many missions

The manager sees a wide ranging field of application:

  • operating drones in remote areas with poor ground infrastructure bringing urgently needed supplies like medicine to the inhabitants,
  • in developed countries with mountainous regions and many scattered settlements which are not well connected to transportation systems
  • in emergencies caused by tornados, landslides or heavy snowstorms for instance, cutting villages off from the rest of the world for some time  and – last but not least –
  • for immediate transport of shipments with high priority, such as laboratory tests or medicine supplies to clinics,  health centers and hospitals.

NOT a Pizza Delivery Service
He points out two additional aspects that are in favor of drones: “They could save people’s lives that need personalized treatment very quickly,” and “e-Commerce is nearly exploding so we have to find new solutions for the last mile delivery.” 
One field of application, however, Oliver categorically excludes after receiving the formal okay to operate commercial drones: “Swiss WorldCargo will not become a pizza courier,” assures the manager with a smile on his face.

Counting down to second stage launch
According to manager Evans, Swiss WorldCargo and their partners intend on offering an integrated end-to-end transportation solution that includes drone delivery should circumstances and cost-effectiveness show it to be the best option.
After the Bellechasse trial phase is completed and the data obtained evaluated the next step will follow – pilot drone flights transporting commercial payloads. This will start near the end of this year and intensify in 2016, states Oliver.
By then, he himself will no longer be chairing Swiss WorldCargo. After more than 13 years sitting in the driver’s seat of the air freight unit of Swiss he decided to end his assignment in autumn to seek new challenges outside the carrier in the thriving field of logistics.
Therefore, Oliver’s ‘early retirement’ at Swiss WorldCargo is only the starting point for something new and yet unspecified occupation. We at CargoForwarder Global wish Oliver all the best for the new phase in his life and would like to thank him for many years of valued cooperation!

Heiner Siegmund  /  Michael Taweel

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