Astral Aviation, a Kenya-based cargo airline, is contemplating to set up a drone technology company in Ethiopia that provides drone cargo transport service.
Astral Aviation is a successful cargo airline based in Nairobi that operates cargo flights in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The Kenyan freight specialist has established a dedicated drone subsidiary -Astral Aerial Solutions - that transports cargo using specialised cargo drones. Astral Aerial Solutions plans to handle the Kenyan freight specialist's expansion into the drone niche market in Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia. The company has also set up a drone training academy in Kenya that trains youth how to operate drones.
Astral Aerial Solutions will initially have three cargo drones of various sizes that transport mails, parcels and provide agricultural spray services. The company will launch its service end of this year.
On the sidelines of the Aviation Africa Summit held in Cairo last week, Sanjeev S. Gadhia, founder and CEO of Astral Aviation, told The Reporter that Astral Aerial Solutions wants to set up a drone company in Ethiopia with a local partner. "We want to replicate our experience in Kenya in Ethiopia. We want to set up the drone company with a local partner. The drones have to be operated by local companies from the point of accountability. We are looking for partners in Ethiopia," Gadhia said.
Gdhia said Ethiopia is a big market with a huge population of 100 million. "Ethiopia is a very big land locked country. There are many regions in Ethiopia which are in accessible. With drone technology you can access remote areas where there are no infrastructure. You can bridge the gap between urban and rural areas using drones and mobile phones," he said.
According to Gadhia, Astral Aerial Solutions has set up a drone technology training academy in Kenya adding that it will look at the opportunity to establish a similar academy with Ethiopian partner in Addis Ababa.
Astral Aerial Solutions will operate three drones. The first drone dubbed FlyOx made by a Spanish company, Singular Aircraft, can handle 2,000kg of cargo and has a range of 1300km. The cargo drone costs 1.5 million dollars. The smaller drones can carry five and ten kg of cargo.
Gadhia said Astral Aerial Solutions targets customers both from public and private sector. "From the public sector we are closely working with postal service, the Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Agriculture. From the private sector we are targeting oil and gas companies, mining companies and agricultural companies. We also want to transport school books in very remote areas," Gadhia said.
Road and Airport infrastructure in rural Africa is a challenge. Seventy percent of Africans live in rural areas. Astral aspires to reach out to people who do not have access to airports and other infrastructure by operating commercial drones.
Many African countries including Ethiopia are waiting for the introduction of drone regulations. "We want to deliver a phone, medical item or urgent spare parts with the lowest cost and the shortest time possible. Where ever you are distance should not be an excuse, you should get what you want. And this can be made possible with drones. Africans have the most important tool-mobile phone. If you have a phone with GPS technology you can be tracked," Gadhia said.
South Africa is the first country to adopt drone technology in Africa to be followed by Rwanda. Recently, the Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority enacted a drone law. The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority is drafting a drone regulation that guides the safe operation of drones in the country.
Gadhia said African governments should come up with smart regulations. "The private sector which is leading the way should closely work with the regulatory bodies."
Astral Aviation is a cargo airline that operates scheduled and charted cargo flights in Kenya, South Sudan, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa, Yemen, and Belgium. It has been involved in many humanitarian operations in Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.
Gadhia made a presentation about the planned cargo drone operation in East Africa at the Aviation Africa Summit held in Cairo from April 17-18 where 980 delegates were in attendance. Organized by the Times Aerospace Limited, Aviation Africa is an annual event that attracts major industry players including airlines, aircraft and engine manufacturers, civil aviation and airport authorities.