Many leaders of the aviation industry plan to use their expertise to help those in need.
Innovation will be the key in this mission. UPS and Amazon have devoted millions to research how drones can be used to deliver packages quickly to remote locations, bypassing roads, traffic and other hazards. Importantly, they also keep drivers out of danger. These factors could make them a game changer for service delivery in Africa and other developing countries like Afghanistan.
Delivering goods through the air to war torn regions has a long history. Famously, in 1948, the Soviet blocked all roadway access to East Berlin. The blockade was broken by the Berlin Airlift, which delivered up to 8,000 tons of supplies each day by plane. Since then, airlifts have been used in many different missions to deliver aid, especially in disasters like the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. (Wikipedia)
Building upon this tradition, this partnership expects that they will be able to deploy aid to far-slung corners of the world faster and more effectively than ever before. These would be able to operate regardless of physical barriers on the ground, whether blocked roads, unfriendly civil actors, or other impediments.
Drone technology has already been implemented for in Rwanda, where the company Zipline transports medical supplies. There, a fleet of 15 drones services the Muhanga region, flying upwards of 93 miles and carrying up to 3 pounds of payload. Much of this payload is blood used for transfusions.
The terrain and environment is significant here. The Muhanga region is mountainous, rural and underdeveloped. It does not have the facilities needed for decentralized blood storage. The drones allow for medical transport with comparably little initial investment. (Aviation Today)
Dr Espoir Kajyibwami, director of the Kigali Hospital, which lies in the capital of the country, speaks on the issue: “The process currently requires that one drives to Kigali, occasionally spending a night as well as other costs. This will no longer be the case with this technology.”
A drone which is going soon to fly in Muhanga District. / Faustin Niyigena (New Times)
Because this is the cutting edge of technology, developing rules and safeguards has been a challenge. “Doing something for the first time in the world is always hard. There is no precedent, manual or clear rules to go by. This made it difficult for us and the Government. We got through this by partnering and testing new solutions,” says Keller Rinaudo, chief executive of Zipline. (New Times)
The payoff has been excellent. Drone technology cuts a four or five hour drive to a 30 minute flight and the blood technicians do not need to leave their workspace. We will work, in the coming months, with other aviation leaders to expand these programs.
One such country to deploy these technologies is Somalia, which is currently in the midst of a deepening famine. There, thousands have moved their families to Mogadishu in search of food. American Football star Colin Kaepernick and actor Ben Stiller have recently taken to Instagram to raise awareness about the situation. On March 17, Kaepernick announced that Turkish Airlines would grant his team a 60 ton cargo plane to fly food and water there. (USA Today)
These technologies could also be deployed in developed countries for commercial shipping and for use during disasters.
There are significant regulatory hurdles, however. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has spoken on the issue. “Introducing [unmanned air systems] into the nation’s airspace is challenging for both the FAA and aviation community. UAS must be integrated into the busiest, most complex airspace in the world — one that is evolving from ground-based navigation aids to a GPS-based system in NextGen” it said in a recent press release. (Federal Aviation Administration)
The agency has allowed limited use of drones for important public efforts, such as firefighting, disaster relief, search and rescue, law enforcement, border patrol, scientific research, and testing and evaluation. The next step will be a controlled rollout of private company aircraft.
In September, CyPhy and UPS performed a test run of emergency medicine between Massachusetts and Children’s Island, about three miles off the Atlantic Coast. UPS believes that its logistical expertise can be of use for a shipping platform that utilizes drones. However, they are very cautious, saying “UPS has a very unique relationship with the public. Our drivers are the face of the company and the public trusts us. So we’re very, very protective of that trust.” (Aviation Today)
As these technologies develop, we look towards future partnerships between private and public entities to deliver aid abroad. UPS, Amazon, and other leaders in the aviation industry will team up to solve some of the most pressing issues facing humanity today.