Many of us know them from Sci-Fi movies going back decades, already: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, whizzing through futuristic cities. Technological developments are catching up with imagination, a growing number of governments are establishing drone regulations, first endeavors are being carried out on unmanned truck and rail solutions, so the time is now also rife for a new UAV cargo solution to join traditional air cargo transport methods. CFG spoke to Dronamics, who are on the brink of launching their Black Swan unmanned aerial vehicle.
Dronamics was founded in 2014. What is the project’s current status?
SR: In 2014, we were two brothers with nothing but an idea. Today, we have an excellent team which is only months away from a working product. It seems like a straight line, but that’s deceptive. People tend to underestimate what it takes to create a brand-new, unmanned aerial vehicle from scratch. At first sight, our product resembles an airplane, but it is an entirely new airframe, and for the first time in decades, it's a platform specifically designed for cargo first, and not for any other use. We also optimized it from head to toe, so to speak, to achieve superior cost and performance characteristics. Cargo needs new technology to be cheaper and more agile compared to the standard fields of applications. Commonly, new technical products are seldom cheaper than existing ones. We are building an exception; therefore, we call our UAV “The Black Swan.”
EU countries prohibit drone flights near airports due to safety reasons. Which operational options do you look at enabling your Black Swan UAVs to fly without conflicting with commercial
SR: Despite our name DRONAMICS, our UAV is an airplane, not a drone. We encourage restrictions around airports because small drones can be extremely disruptive and can pose a real risk to safety, for a variety of technical reasons. We, on the other hand intend to launch a small airplane and act like a normal airline. We intend to offer the market scheduled flights within a pan European network. Our operators are licensed, and our aircraft is fitted with all required transponders and sensors in order to be integrated safely in the existing aviation framework, just like ordinary manned aircraft. We work with regulators and air traffic service providers to establish the viable flight paths, and with the airports to ensure we fit into their operations without any disruption. Plus, new drone rules coming into effect in JAN21 are quite clear - drones *can* operate in an airport environment if they meet a certain standard, and our airplane and systems pass that standard.
In order to deploy your “Black Swans” and keep up with your promise of same day delivery you need an operational authorization, comparable with an AOC. Where do you intend to apply for this license: France, The Netherland, Germany, Denmark, others? And what is the time frame for obtaining it?
SR: We're considering several EU countries; we'll make a decision by the end of the year. The choice is ultimately customer-driven, as the rules are intended to be the same everywhere. As for the timeline, we expect to obtain the permit later in 2021 but, of course, the regulators always have the final say. The process is a comprehensive one and we're not taking it lightly, but we've designed to CS 23 and we have all the documentation ready, so we're looking forward to the process. Just like the regulators, we do not compromise on safe and reliable operations; this is our prime goal.
Operationally, your “Black Swan” are designed to transport up to 350 kg over a distance of 2,500 km. Which markets are you targeting?
SR: Our 3 core verticals are e-commerce, pharma / cool-chain, and industrials (spare parts, etc.). We have the longest range on the market, and our focus is on the middle mile, so we are targeting domestic and cross-border routes linking European cities and communities. We particularly intend to concentrate on locations that are currently underserved by air cargo or not served by air at all.
Are there any use cases you could illustrate?
SR: We are working on developing and mapping out use cases with our customers and are in the process of obtaining a flight license. Our studies show that particularly the fast-increasing e-commerce business needs new transport and delivery solutions, given that a growing number of vendors do not live in large cities with access to direct cargo flights. So, this is where droneports come into play. These can be located closer to vendors: this geographical proximity reduces time consuming road transports, cuts costs, and shortens the e-commerce supply chain. The same is possible for vaccines, medical supplies, delivery of spares and parts for the automotive, mining, or electrical industries as well, to name just some examples. These are the ones we see a great potential for our upcoming “Black Swan” operations.
Are feeder flights your utmost priority linking your network with traditional cargo traffic or are you eying an autonomous system without much contact points with commercial air
SR: We're looking at both, depending on demand and customer. Feeder flights are a very attractive use case, as the shipments are already paid for to go by air. However, we see greater potential to get shipments off the road, transporting them by air instead. Data evidence that in the EU, the ratio of flown cargo to freight transported via road is 1:1000. So for every kilogram that is flown, 1,000 kg are trucked, despite traffic jams, shortage of drivers and other hardships. In other words, it is an enormous market which could benefit from air speed at more relevant rates and routes.
As a start-up that’s not operational yet, you did not earn a single euro so far. Which financial resources do you have bolstering your project?
SR: We can't comment on revenue figures other than that your information seems to be incorrect or if you will, outdated -- we already have paying customers. Other than that, we are privately funded - we have a growing list of investors, including entrepreneurs and executives from aviation, logistics and technology from the U.S., Europe, Africa, and Asia, as well as funds and venture investors like Eleven, Founders Factory, and Speedinvest. It's an ambitious vision and a complex endeavor to mold the present into this kind of future. The R&D takes time but brings huge advantages in market-beating cost structure and market expansion potential. It took a long time to get to market, but we're years ahead of everyone else, so it was definitely worth the effort.
When and where will your first flight with an unmanned arial vehicle take place?
SR: We'll reveal that next year, but I assure you it will be a big announcement, because only then, after more than 6 years, my brother and I will be finally allowed to shave our beards!
Thank you for your time and input.
Heiner Siegmund / Brigitte Gledhill
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