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Drone developer Dronamics has reached signed up 35 airports across Europe to serve as hubs, following the unveiling of new EU regulations for drone operations.
So far, five of the airports have been announced, Liege, Brescia, Osijek, Seinajoki and Skovde, and in an interview with The Loadstar, Dronamics co-founder and chief executive Svilen Rangelov said the rest would be revealed in the coming months.
“Our objective is to have a drone port in every city and town, but these do not necessarily need to be at all the biggest gateways,” said Mr Rangelov.
“It is the unserved demand that is more interesting to us, that [cargo] going by road we think would be better served by our drones. Take Bulgaria, it has a population of 7m but only one airport handling cargo, which means it has to be trucked there, which is very inefficient.
“So, we want to be at airports close to high population centres but [which are] lacking any sort of air freight service.”
The news of Dronamics’ new airport hubs comes a little over a fortnight from EU legislators unveiling new drone regulations that will come into effect on 1 January, following a delay caused by the global pandemic.
Under the new rules, some of which still need to be ironed out, operators will need to apply to the directorate general of aviation for a permit.
At present, Dronamics has yet to finalise its first full-scale drone, but Mr Rangelov said the company had almost finished a prototype and was confident B2B operations would start in the first quarter of 2022.
“Test flights will begin in Q1 21 and we will have permits by the end of the year so that we can begin flying in 2022,” he added.
Although more expensive than road, the company is anticipating drones will be substantially faster and yet 80% cheaper to use than standard airfreight, charging “less than €5 per kg” for same-day delivery.
Its Black Swan drone (pictured above) can cover 2,500km carrying loads of up to 350kg, which Mr Rangelov believes makes it “very attractive” to e-commerce businesses.
“For e-tailers, the ability to expand into new markets while also providing same-day services is reliant on building fulfilment centres in those new markets, which is both incredibly costly and time-consuming to achieve,” Mr Rangelov added. “Because of the distance our drone can fly, we can achieve that same-day delivery without the need for this large investment.
“We are now holding discussions with several e-commerce companies attracted by these qualities and seeing our offering as a very fulfilling proposition.”
Amazon and UPS have also made no secret of their desire to enter the drone market, having released film several years ago of staged deliveries. However, little has since been seen of any drone fleets, with Amazon laying off a number of staff from its drone division and reportedly turning to outside help to get its project off the ground.
A UPS spokesperson claimed its drones were already conducting daily, paid commercial deliveries for several US customers, adding: “We’re seeing continued progress around the world from a regulatory standpoint, and technologies continue to evolve and improve, especially with respect to sense-and-avoid and fleet management systems.”