Zipline has crossed rigorous regulatory hurdles to introduce drone technology into Ghana and Nigeria. The company has begun with distribution of healthcare items, and has an eye on eCommerce in Africa. Logistics Update Africa interview Catherine Odiase, General Manager of Zipline, Nigeria.

Zipline has made remarkable progress in the use of drones to support socio-economic activities especially supporting healthcare distribution and on-demand consumables; how did Zipline get so far in this aspect?
At Zipline, we are driven by our core aim of helping solve the world's most urgent and complex access challenges. This, we have effectively done by leveraging our expertise in robotics and autonomy with which we were able to design, manufacture and now operating the world's largest automated delivery system.

Zipline launched its services in Kaduna State in Northern Nigeria early June 2022. What motivated the choice of Kaduna State among the vast country, and how has this operation fared so far?
We are speaking with several states in Nigeria, with the possibility of partnerships. It just happened that our conversation with the Kaduna state government was completed just in time to become our very first partner state in Nigeria. The Kaduna facility has been commissioned for test flights and we should be commencing commercial flights in the coming weeks. We have also signed similar partnership agreements with Cross River and Bayelsa states and should be launching our operations there before end of year 2022.

Nigeria is one of the countries with strong regulation for the use of drones; what were your experiences getting clearance for your drone operations in Kaduna State?
We have had to go through a rigorous regulatory process for the required permit and partnerships that made it possible to import our drones into Nigeria. We have experienced some delays in getting some of these permits because our technology is very new and not the kind of drones the country had known. Though the process had been cumbersome, our joint efforts have culminated into a great achievement for all, and we appreciate all the regulatory officials for their due diligence. With our entry now, we do not envisage any delay as we launch operations in other states.

Could you explain your experiences in vaccine distribution in Ghana, and how would you describe the regulatory requirements in Ghana for drones?
In partnership with the government of Ghana, we currently lead the distribution of all child immunization vaccines to over two-thousand health facilities in Ghana. We have also delivered over one million Covid-19 vaccines to more than one thousand health dosing centers: first of such national scale delivery of Covid-19 vaccines in the world. Our partnership with the government of Ghana has complemented efforts in ensuring that Ghana did not experience any expiries of the vaccines as our system was used to aid even distribution of the vaccines across the country. Our cold chain storage facility came in handy as storage for the vaccines just so they remain potent till the time of administering.

Drone regulatory requirement in Ghana is not too different from what pertains in Nigeria. Several regulatory authorities, including the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, the National Security Authority, among others granted us permits only after they were satisfied that we met all their requirements.

What is your plan for expansion in such interventions in other African countries where last mile transport and distribution of vital supplies is a challenge?
Our current focus is to ensure the timely commissioning of all countries or states we have signed agreement with – Kisumu County in Kenya, Cote D'Ivoire, Bayelsa and Kaduna states in Nigeria. And yes, we are in talks with other states and countries and will make public once there's an agreement.

How do you think your services would have effect on eCommerce in Africa, given the increasing young population now embracing eCommerce and innovative delivery services?
We are an instant delivery company. This instant delivery system has so far been used for medical deliveries and animal health deliveries - we deliver swine semen to farms in Rwanda. E-commerce is on the table, and we will make that announcement in few weeks to come.

The challenge of establishing effective and inclusive regulation for the co-existence of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones with manned aircraft in the airspace has created worries among global aviation regulators; how would Zipline ensure safety of its services and operations in this regard?
This is one of the questions that was of concern to the many regulators in Nigeria, Ghana, Japan the USA and all other countries we are speaking with. Our technology has a very interesting but sophisticated safety features that makes it distinct from all others on the market.

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