The industry-leading, German drone manufacturer and operator, Wingcopter has signed a 16 million U.S. dollar contract with healthcare provider, Spright. The agreement foresees the acquisition of a large fleet of Wingcopter’s new flagship drone, the Wingcopter 198. The companies’ mutual aim is to create a drone-based, healthcare-specific delivery network across the United States. This would enable the instant and on-demand delivery of vital medical supplies, medication, vaccines, blood, and lab samples, from one medical facility to another.
As a result of the U.S. government’s efforts to keep healthcare costs down, Americans are impacted by a lack of immediate or timely access to healthcare resources. When these shortages hamper the availability of blood products, medicines, diagnostics or small medical devices, the consequences can be dire. According to Spright’s parent, Air Methods, a leading air medical service provider based in Greenwood Village, Colorado, the solution to escape these bottlenecks is a flexible, rapid distribution drone network designed with 21st-century technology.
First flights will take off in Q2, 2022
However, it will be some time yet before regular commercial drone flights can be launched. First, the unmanned aerial vehicles need to be transferred from Germany to the USA. Secondly, a landing network must be set up, encompassing 300+ sites. And thirdly, a flight license is still missing, so every single mission can initially only be carried out with special allowance by aviation authorities. This is a cumbersome task but unavoidable in the first phase, and will happen in Q2, Wingcopter spokesman, Thomas Dreiling, estimates.
He confirms that his company has applied to Washington’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for certification of its latest drone variant, as it also did in Europe to get green light from EU regulator, EASA.
An operator license is a prerequisite for unlimited use of the unmanned UAV anywhere in the USA. It would be the first such flight license issued by the FAA for drone operations in the States to date. At the same time, it would be a door opener for other markets, Mr. Dreiling predicts.
Over in the U.S., competitors such as Prime Air, Zipline, Matternet, Flytrex or Flirty – among others – are also in the starting blocks. They, too, have meanwhile submitted license applications to the FAA for their respective products. “Because of the extensive review process - after all, drones have to be integrated into the existing air traffic system - and due to the enormously high safety requirements, we do not expect the process to be concluded in the course of this year,” Mr. Dreiling reasons.
Nationwide delivery network
Steadily increasing demand for medical drone delivery solutions throughout the USA is the driving force behind the Spright/Wingcopter accord. Spright decided to establish a drone-based, healthcare-specific delivery network in the United States, leveraging an existing infrastructure of more than 300 bases, and serving hundreds of hospitals in predominantly rural areas across 48 states. Joseph Resnik, President of Spright, comments: “We are fortunate to have Wingcopter on board as our aircraft technology partner. With their industry-leading eVTOL aircraft design, Wingcopter brings a level of maturity needed to address the complex and diverse demands of the U.S. healthcare market. We are confident that our combined strengths will deliver innovative, time-saving solutions to meet the needs of our customers and their communities.”
Wingcopter made in the USA?
Tom Pluemmer, Co-founder and CEO of Wingcopter, states: “This multi-million-dollar commercial agreement with Spright is clear proof that the Wingcopter 198 has a perfect product-market-fit. The projected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the drone delivery market of more than 50 % to a total volume of almost USD 40 billion in 2030, underlines the rapid adoption of eVTOL technology for last-mile logistics.”
In addition to supplying Spright with drones, the two sides also agreed that Spright will be the exclusive partner for maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO services) of the Wingcopter 198 model throughout the USA. The electric powered vehicle has a range of up to 110 km (68 miles), fly at a maximum speed of 145 km/h (90 mph) and can carry a payload of up to 6 kg (13 lbs). Spright parent Air Methods said that it will support Wingcopter in the certification process with the FAA.
Forecasting the future, Wingcopter’s Dreiling did not exclude the mid-term possibility of having these drones manufactured in the USA.
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