July 30, 2021: The third edition of cargo drone virtual summit organised by Logistics Update Africa (LUA), one of the publications from the STAT Media Group, on July 29, dove deep into the cargo drone technology in Africa, where the technology is today, and what the future holds. Themed as ‘Drones bridging divides for delivering cargo in Africa’, the summit discussed the wastage of vaccines, benefit of partnerships and getting accurate data for tracking and tracing of shipments.

Addressing at the event as the keynote speaker, Esther Kunda, director general, innovation & emerging technologies at the ministry of ICT and Innovation, the government of Rwanda, emphasised, “Rwanda has started the drone industry journey in 2016 and it is our ambition to become an ICT hub in Africa. We want to do that by fostering innovation and emerging technologies that will enable us to become a knowledge-based economy. One of our key areas as the government is to focus on to create an enabling environment.”

She added that in Rwanda more than 228,000 units of medical products were already delivered across 320 facilities in 25 districts, which operates 24x7. “Today, this accounts for 80 percent of blood supply in medical facilities."

Speaking on the government support, she stated, “We will unlock regulations wherever possible to support drone technology. In terms of subsidies, we have put up a new investment clause in place, which will support emerging technologies and innovations such as drones. It allows tax holidays for some time, until you are able to put your product and make it operational. ”

In his presentation, Kush Gadhia, senior business development manager, Astral Aerial Solutions, highlighted foraying into India and UAE. The company aims to explore mid- and last- mile cargo deliveries in India.

Barry Koperberg, founder and general manager, Wings For Aid, showcased the newly developed mini freighter which has a capacity of 160 kilogrammes payload. He added, “The aircraft can carry 8 boxes of 20 kilogrammes each. It will start commercial operation by first half of 2022.”

In her interview session, Carla Blauvelt, director programs, VillageReach, who is based out of Malawi, pointed out that the company’s association with Swoop Aero is expanding in Malawi to reach 13 districts in Southern Malawi and 7 districts in Northern Malawi. “We are working with government and other partners to design and determine what would be needed for an integrated drone system, what it would look like in the country and how to make it sustainable.”

Yaniv Gelnik, chief revenue officer, Cloudline, showcased the company’s airship inflated with helium having a payload capacity of 50 kilogrammes and a flying range of 250 kilometres. “There is an active refrigeration unit to maintain different types of temperature-controlled products. The company will soon be delivering cold-chain medicines for customers in Africa and Asia,” he added.

The panel discussion addressed the collaboration between the government and the private partners to make drone deliveries a success.

Agnes Hiere, director of partnerships and institutional relationship, AerialMetric, explained, “In last two years, we delivered 50,000 doses of vaccines to remote communities in the northern part of Madagascar.”

"The future of cargo drones is intermodality with a hub and spoke model where we have smaller drones, bigger drones and aircraft working together," concludes Koperberg.

Meanwhile, Sanjeev Gadhia, CEO of Astral Aerial Solutions believes that moving vaccines from airport to airport is the easiest part while moving it to the clinics or the last-mile is the challenge in Africa and drones can help reduce wastage. “More work needs to be done on visibility and traceability of vaccines as its shelf-life is less.”

Irvin Phenyane, chairperson & non-executive director, Drone Council South Africa, concluded, "The tension between regulators and innovators is a global phenomenon. Engaging in constructive discussion is the solution to make a difference in Africa.”

The event was hosted by Astral Aerial Solutions and supported by Wings For Aid and Drone Council South Africa.

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