Almost five years ago a public-private partnership was born that will forever impact the transport of goods in the sky. Drones, a term used to define the small or large aircraft that flew overhead without a pilot on board, were viewed at best as a nuisance and at worst as threats to privacy or physical damage.
One government has distinguished itself from others by its willingness to put the benefits of society before the uncertain risks. The Rwandan government saw the potential of this new technology and collaborated with a new company, Zipline International.
Together, this public-private partnership aimed to provide blood, medicines and vaccines on demand to ensure that where a person lives does not determine whether they live. The partnership would continue to redefine the way drones were viewed around the world, accomplishing more over the past five years than any other aviation organization in the world by improving the capacity, impact and reliability of the larger logistics system. of health.
Only two countries in the world can boast of having large-scale drone delivery systems that support medical and consumer services, and it all started in Rwanda. Rwanda, and now Ghana, both working with Zipline, have continued to invest in nature at the demand of drone delivery with impressive results; both seeing the benefit for their people.
Zipline Zips, the name of the drones, is today capable of delivering payloads of approximately 4 lbs (1.80 kg) in less than an hour, anywhere in an area of 20,000 square kilometers surrounding n any distribution center, taking advantage of ultra-cold chain technology with a drop site. approximately two standard parking spaces.
Every day, around 150 deliveries per distribution center, or half a ton of freight per day. To put this in context, over the past 5 years this partnership has led to the delivery of millions of units of blood, medical products and vaccines and has directly saved countless lives.
While drones will never replace the need for new roads and bridges, they offer a unique opportunity to connect disconnected communities with on-demand goods. This has been shown to reduce stockouts, waste and over-ordering by health workers, resulting in huge savings in medical supplies and a rapid reduction in pressure on the system as a whole.
It all started because the Rwandan government and Zipline worked together to overcome an outdated and rigid approach to aviation that did not support the inclusion of innovative new forms of aviation. This partnership focused entirely on the benefit over the risk; iterate through the test phases, share data that would support the next steps and cultivate an unprecedented safety culture that now tries to be reflected around the world.
Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority, the regulatory body for the aviation industry in Rwanda, developed UAS regulations in 2016 due to the emergence of UAS technology globally, the availability cheap drones in the market, the interest of various local institutions in using the technologies and a willingness not to be caught off guard by the new challenges posed by these technologies.
Unfortunately, there really was no model that would work to support the types of flights needed to save lives, so working with Zipline and international organizations like the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the World Economic Forum (WEF), Rwanda has charted its own way forward. At the same time, there was no precedent for what Zipline, or the government was trying to accomplish.
At the time, the goal was to make flights as close as possible to “manned operations”. As many do, RCAA began with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems Panel manual. Ultimately, we all came together to develop a platform that would answer the question, “What is an operation that would meet the need while ensuring that we have a good idea of the risks and how to mitigate them?” What they had created, in reality, was a completely new approach to developing a safe, large-scale drone operation.
Now the world is looking to Rwanda and Zipline to share their success on the world stage. Already, Rwanda has been asked to chair industry-leading safety efforts, highlight the way forward at ICAO and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) events, and lead this which is necessary for governance and oversight in a more dynamic, flexible, data-driven and efficient manner.
Meanwhile, Zipline has been invited to chair the latest FAA Aviation Regulatory Effort Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) in the United States, which focuses on safety, security and society while leading the efforts. humanitarian aid workers at the Flight Safety Foundation.
As the world struggles to rebuild and redefine the future after a global pandemic, it will be the nations that embrace and invest in new forms of governance that meet today’s rapidly changing needs that will go furthest and most effectively. faster.
Following the Rwandan example, adopting harmonized approaches to drone regulation proven over 5 years of large-scale operations, other countries are just beginning to realize a fairer and just-in-time delivery network that save lives.
The writer is responsible for regulatory affairs in Africa at Zipline
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer.