Commercial drone operations on the cards of Kenya Airways in 2022
Drones have proved to be a revolution in many aspects of our modern world. The airline industry has an eye on the new technology for small cargo deliveries that is quick, easy to handle and sustainable for short distances. Kenya Airways introduced a new subsidiary in 2021 and it is all set for commercial drone operations.
Kenya Airways (KQ), the flag carrier airline, is focusing on its new business unit. Launched in July 2021, Kenya Airways' Fahari Innovation Hub is a platform that brings together entrepreneurs and innovators to help accelerate the development of the aviation industry and tackle some of its current and future challenges.
Fahari Innovation Hub also known as Fahari Aviation is a subsidiary that offers Unmanned Aircraft Systems Technology Services to third parties. They position the services out in the market to grow an additional revenue line for the KQ group.
Group CEO and MD, Kenya Airways, Allan Kilavuka said in a press announcement, "While the pandemic came with extreme challenges for the aviation industry, it also brought along opportunities for new initiatives, one of them being the Fahari Innovation Hub. This not only enabled the presentation of new world-class ideas that became a part of the solutions to the challenges we faced but also brought together partners with whom we have worked together across the value chain in a bid to revive operations."
We spoke to Hawkins Musili, the general manager of Fahari Aviation as the new platform made some recent announcements on partnerships with some industry leaders. He further talks about the 2022 plans and how were the initial days for the new set-up.
"We recently signed an MOU with Skyport, a UK based drone operator, and they are mostly into light cargo logistics, using drones. And with where that technology is going we are seeing a lot of potential. As far as drone logistics is concerned, drones are getting the ability to carry heavy cargo over long ranges, which I think is what will enable beneficial commercialization of the drone technology in the logistics space," Musili added.
We are currently offering light cargo logistics, in partnership with Skyport and other partners, to carry light loads of up to 10 kg and position them over a range of up to 200 kilometers.
Hawkins Musili, general manager, Fahari Aviation
"So as one of our key business lines, we are currently offering light cargo logistics, of course, in partnership with Skyport and other partners, to carry light loads of up to 10 kilos and position them as per the client requests over a range of up to 200 kilometers. On the other hand, we are also working with drone manufacturers to look at concepts of heavy cargo drones that are coming into the market."
Apart from Skyport, Fahari is in talks with a US based drone manufacturer that is manufacturing drones to handle 25 to 200 kilos of payload within the range of 1500 kilometers.
"Additionally, we are looking at a cargo drone manufacturer out of South Africa, that is looking at almost 2000 kilometers of range and payload in excess of 200 kilograms. Official announcements on partnerships with these companies will be made soon," said the general manager.
Fahari Aviation currently offers different types, sizes, capabilities and mission oriented drones like fixed-wing drones, multi rotor drones and more. The initial focus of Fahari aviation is delivering pharmaceuticals, critical medical supplies. Followed by humanitarian and then comes general parcels.
"Fahari Aviation came out as an internal process of de-risking the organization (KQ). During the pandemic when passenger aircrafts for domestic and international operation were grounded, we got the regulations from the government for unmanned aircraft systems, also known as drones. Then the ministers responsible for transportation or cabinet secretary responsible for transportation Kenya gave us a greenlight as civilian operators, to go into the field of drone technology," said Musili.
The year 2021 was about planning, executing and training the staff for 2022. In May 2021, the team carried out an initial proof of concepts with various players in the market and training began from August 2021. They trained teams in South Africa and certified them to fly drones.
"Logistics is part of the solution offering that we have bought and we are actually commercializing most of our operations this year. 2021 was more or less a set up and beginning of the operations," Musili said.
After setting up the office with well-trained staff, in this year Fahari is aiming at rolling out the business with new partnerships.
"We have a number of entities that we are working with to explore that technology feel constrained, but we still think there is a future in terms of cargo delivery using drones," Musili stated.
With the new business unit, KQ aims to bring revenues and profits. Apart from the manual aircraft inspection, KQ is at the trial stage for using drones as aircraft inspections.
"We are working with one of the major aircraft OEMs. And the idea is to establish this as an approved aircraft inspection method. There are still activities that we could do with Kenya Airways as a client or as a customer. But also I think the main and biggest advantage here is to develop a new revenue stream and new business," Musili said.
In November 2021, at the Dubai Airshow, Boeing announced a partnership with Kenya Airways to support its recently launched, Fahari Innovation Hub.
With the spread of coronavirus in 2020 and the lockdown situation, the industry has finally got back on its feet after a year of facing financial loss and struggles. But the new Omicron variant that is spreading rapidly is building up some tension within the industry.
On an aviation business perspective, Musili observes that the new Covid-19 variant is going to have some impact. "With every variant, there are always some tweaks, and some changes in terms of regulations from different organizations and countries. For now, there are a lot of restrictions on travel between Africa and the Middle East. Omicron just appeared, the US and some countries in Western Europe had put some African countries on the red list.
From a cargo perspective, of course, the fact that you are not flying passenger aircraft into certain destinations, that does affect your cargo capacity as well. Airlines like Ethiopian and Kenya Airways do operate cargo only aircraft, but most of the cargo flying between Africa and most parts of the world are carried in the belly capacity, and not necessarily in cargo aircraft. So when the number of passenger flights are reduced, the cargo that is carried in the belly capacity is equally affected," Musili ended.
This feature was originally published in the January - February 2022 issue of Logistics Update Africa.