The world’s tenth most prominent cargo drone operator, German company, Wingcopter, revealed this week that it has teamed up with Continental Drones Ltd, (a subsidiary of the Ghanaian/Dubai company, Atlantic Trust Holding) to give flight to a fleet of 12,000 Wingcopter 198s over the next 5 years: making this the world’s largest commercial drone deployment to date. Africa is poised to receive a comprehensive drone delivery network.
Wingcopter is a tiny player compared to the Amazon’s Prime Time Air drone behemoth and its USD 280 billion revenue. Yet, the 5-year-old German company has resolutely and successfully worked its
way forward with its social responsibility focus of ensuring that those 2 billion people worldwide currently lacking in adequate medical care, are finally accorded better access through medical
deliveries using drones.
Commercial versus e-commercial
The world’s most prominent player, Amazon, on the other hand, has been pursuing drone plans since 2013 and, despite spending USD 43 billion (in 2020 - around a seventh of its current total revenue 2021), on Research and Development, - far more than any of its drone peers – it has yet to make significant headway on its goal of drone deliveries as standard (initially) by 2018. In the past ten years, it has spent a total of USD 2 billion on its endeavors and employs a team of more than 1,000 people. Yet, its drone delivery plan has yet to come to fruition. Instead, it is under investigation following a serious drone crash in JUN21, which called its airworthiness into question.
While Wingcopter has successfully carried out various projects across the African continent, Japan, and Germany, to name but a few, Amazon is planning to run 12,000 test flights this year, but already fell far short of its planned 2,500 test flights in 2021.
America versus Africa
Regulations are a major deal-breaker/maker and trying to set up an e-commerce drone delivery service in highly populated cities certainly faces very different challenges to working to connect rural areas on a massive continent that has large areas of missing or inadequate infrastructure. Here, the benefits of drone deliveries have already been proven more than once by various drone players involved in medical and emergency care projects. Yet, the latest news of the partnership between Continental Drones and Wingcopter, is about to catapult Wingcopter’s drones to the fore, as its Co-Founder and CEO, Tom Plümmer, confirms: “This agreement and trustful partnership is a real game-changer, positioning Wingcopter and Continental Drones at the top of the drone delivery industry. Wingcopter is well positioned to execute against the tremendous opportunity of drone delivery in the next decade. We are convinced that our cooperation with Alex and his Continental Drones team will unlock the African drone delivery market on a large scale, allowing us to jointly improve and save millions of lives.”
Not just saving lives, but improving the economy
“These networks will dramatically improve the reliability and efficiency of existing supply chains but also help create completely new ones,” the press release states with regard to Continental Drones’ and Wingcopter’s plans to set up networks across all 49 sub-Saharan countries over the next five years, deploying 12,000 Wingcopter 198 drones in the process: “the world's most advanced delivery drone.” A win-win situation all round, since Africa’s people will not only gain far easier access to medical care, the set-up of these drone networks will create a multitude of jobs in operating and maintaining the networks, and the networks will also form the foundation for “an entirely new transport framework - much faster, cheaper, more sustainable, and more efficient than the development of conventional ground-based infrastructure with all its unhealthy and climate-damaging emissions”.
Will Africa have the most advanced drone network by 2027?
Alexander Asiedu, Founder of Continental Drones and Chairman of Atlantic Trust Holding, concludes: “Together with Wingcopter, we are committed to accelerating the development and economic integration of Africa by enabling the creation of drone-based delivery networks across the continent. With our longstanding business experience on the ground and Wingcopter's best-in-class drone technology, these networks offer a real chance to fuel economic development and help improve the livelihood of millions. African nations show true leadership by implementing this cutting-edge technology for the better of their people and generations to come.”
Are we getting there?
A recent McKinsey report estimates that currently around 2,000 drone deliveries are being carried out every day around the world, and that this figure is likely to amount to 1.5 million by the end of 2022: three times that of 2021. More than 100 companies are currently competing in the drone delivery segment.
With regard to public acceptance of drone deliveries, a McKinsey survey of 4,500 people in six countries, found that around two in three people would use drone-delivery services if they were already available. Certainly, more headway is being made in drone networks for medical deliveries, than commercial ones. As too, are drone delivery networks in Africa and Asia, compared to Europe and the U.S. Experts writing for Techxplore believe that “It will be years before the Federal Aviation Administration approves commercial drone deliveries, although the agency is letting companies conduct test flights in increasingly populated areas so long as they don't pose significant safety risks.”
Drones will have really made it when they also begin featuring prominently and permanently at air cargo exhibitions. With all the talk of multimodal, they are still rarely mentioned in conjunction. Perhaps they will always remain a separate last-mile or stand-alone component.
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