Aviation|Business|Freight|Gas|Oil And Gas|Systems|Training|transport|Solutions|Operations
Aviation|Business|Freight|Gas|Oil And Gas|Systems|Training|transport|Solutions|Operations

UAVs, e-commerce, set to transform air cargo

21st February 2019

By: Rebecca Campbell

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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Unmanned aerial vehicles, popularly called drones, and e-commerce (particularly the global giant e-commerce enterprises such as Amazon and Alibaba) look set to transform the air freight industry worldwide, including in Africa. This was the general opinion at a panel discussion on the third and last day of the Air Cargo Africa 2019 conference and exhibition.

Roger Scheifele, Frankfurt Hahn Airport senior VP business development: aviation and non-aviation, observed that the global e-commerce giants were trying to control their entire supply chains.

However, "I don't see a threat ... I see an opportunity," he said. "Amazon, Alibaba, ... I don't see them as threats but ... as opportunities," agreed Cargo Flash Infotech sales director Lesley Cripps. "We need to change. ... They're not a threat, they can take the industry forward."

"The real issue is that the business model is being disrupted," pointed out South African Airways Cargo operations head Justice Luthuli.

"We are very fragmented," noted Scheifele. "We have a lot of players in the airline cargo industry."

Part of the challenge from the Amazons and Alibabas is their determination to totally digitize their supply chains. But another part is their work developing drones especially for what is, in the industry, called "last mile delivery", that is, the final stage, directly into the hands of the customer.

STAT Trade Times editor Reji John argued that air cargo companies had to follow suit. "If we don't do it, the Amazons, Alibabas and others will do it. ... They're already doing it."

But drones could potentially also be used for longer distance missions, covering hundreds and not dozens of kilometres. Kenyan cargo airline Astral Aviation founder and CEO Sanjeev Gadhia stated that only 80% of Africa's population was connected with modern transport systems, with the remainder living in rural villages. So, three years ago Astral decided to set up a drone operating subsidiary, Astral Aerial Solutions.

This has two main focus areas. The first is the operation of large cargo drones -- that is, aircraft capable of carrying payloads between 50 kg and 2 000 kg -- to provide accessibility and connectivity to rural communities in Africa. The company expects its main clients to be United Nations (UN) agencies.

Astral had already chosen a Spanish designed- and built-drone, the Singular Aircraft Flyox, to carry out these missions. The Flyox has a range of 1 200 km and is amphibious. Once Kenya promulgates its drone regulations, expected within a few months, Astral will launch a pilot programme, lasting from three to six months, followed by an application for certification and then by regular commercial operations.

Apart from humanitarian missions on behalf of the UN and other agencies, the drone subsidiary will also target e-commerce deliveries, to speed up these deliveries to African customers from the current weeks to a few days. The third market will be the supply of spare parts to the oil and gas sector.

The second focus area is training. The company plans to set up a drone training academy in Kenya, in cooperation with South African enterprise UDH Group.

But South Africa itself is lagging behind other African countries.

"It's not easy to operate a drone business in South Africa," stated UDH CEO Sean Reitz. "It is a complex business. I think we are lagging because of our complex regulation. ... In other parts of Africa, the regulators have been a little more relaxed." The pioneering of innovative drone applications has been allowed in other countries across the continent.

He expressed the view that the local drone industry had focused its attention on the South African Civil Aviation Authority (Sacaa), which had created an industry-versus-regulator situation. Now it was seeking to engage with the wider business community and other stakeholders, to bring to their attention the potential benefits of drones to them.

Hopefully this would lead to them also lobbying the Sacaa regarding the simplification of drone regulations.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter



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