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Drone deliveries; could African supply chains lead the way?

Unlike other parts of the world, Africa is on a fast-track to normalising drone delivery. The cost and security benefits around drones are rapidly being realised by local government authorities, nonprofit organisations and businesses. Drone delivery is enabling Africa to jump huge technological and infrastructure steps. Africa’s enabling regulatory framework is greatly contributing to drive the technological maturity in the drone logistics segment, which is also attracting legitimacy outside Africa.

Integration of drones into supply chain has reduced the delivery time and proved as an effective answer to Africa’s protracted poor infrastructure. Drones in Africa, with its strong focus on healthcare, has proved a game changer, and continues to create a logistics response, in these Covid times, that is not only facilitating the increased demand for the critical supplies but also effectively reaching out to remote humanitarian emergency zones.

"Zipline is probably the best example to date. The Californian start up, delivers blood patches nationwide"

East African countries like Rwanda, Kenya, Malawi and South Africa have seen the most drone delivery action in the African region and the regulatory framework in these countries have truly speed up approvals for drone system operations. However, considering how drones are integrated into the supply chain, there is a growing concern among the civil aviation authorities about possible threats to privacy and security posed by the rapid proliferation of drone operations in the region.

Integrating drone delivery into supply chain

Companies are reportedly adopting drone delivery system by integrating it with their existing logistics model. With drones being deployed for various logistics operations like from warehouse management or inventory surveillance to last mile delivery. At a recent webinar conducted but the Logistics Update Africa on the topic: Drones for improving healthcare supply chains and creating drone corridors for Africa.

Another example of successful drone integration, which comes from the US, involves a collaboration between DHL and Wingcopter in Tanzania. With Wingcopter drones’ capability of vertical takeoff and landing, DHL Flight Forward has integrated drone operations with its delivery drones.

To invigorate last mile delivery solutions in Africa, Astral Aerial Solutions announced a collaboration with Wingcopter. The announcement was made during the webinar by Geoffrey Nyaga, chief operations officer of Astral Aerial. Commenting on the collaboration, he said “Our aim is to develop a strong network and solutions across Africa for the expected Covid-19 vaccine.”

Security and privacy concerns surround drone delivery

As civil aviation authorities are mapping regulatory framework to accommodate drone operations for a rapid logistics response, there are some serious obstacles concerning security and privacy. How truly autonomous are these drone operations? How is the information captured from the aerial survey sensors is being used and decimated? These are some of the questions, along with the integrity of some of the equipment and cutting-edge technologies that are being used in drones, need answering.

Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has additional requirements in place concerning the privacy of the data that gets captured by some of the drone delivery operations. Lawrence K Amukono, chief national continuous monitoring coordinator at KCAA explained that “Drones have introduced challenge to people who are concerned about privacy — cameras, imaging devices and other sensors that are capturing information, and that is also controlled to a certain degree. And the regulations do not want people's privacy to be jeopardised by approving unmanned aircraft system operations. We are saying (information) captured, distribution, and publication is also controlled by law.”

As a response several African aviation authorities have decided to hold drone operations from their airspace. Whilst most bans being for precaution and safety measures some countries see drone technology as a threat to their internal communications systems that could jeopardise an autocracy for example. Other cultural backgrounds do not go well with a technology capable of taking aerial content without consent.

Many companies and nonprofit organisations are increasingly endorsing for drone logistics in Africa to be entirely home brewed, from manufacturing the drones to operations. To build an African drone and create an ecosystem around unmanned aerial system, which is sustainable and remains vigilant not only for emergency responses but also for e-commerce, first-and last-mile deliveries and be demand driven.

We believe Africa offers a remarkable playground for aerial technology to take off. However, this can only be achieved with the help and cooperation of Western start ups and foreign drone manufacturers such as DJI. Africa will have to keep a hold on local operations and eventually build its own network to truly thrive.

Have more examples to share? Head to our drone discussion groups!



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