Rwanda Drone Engineers Help Zipline Find Foothold in U.S.

Participants at the Africa Drone Forum inspect one of the drones by Zipline at an exhibition (file photo).

Drone technology has been gaining prominence over the years and these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) have been hovering over the skies in many countries, including Rwanda where they have been supplying blood to rural hospitals.

However, it wasn't until the Covid-19 pandemic gripped the whole world that these tiny planes started playing a critical role in delivering needed medical supplies and protective gear.

Drone firm Zipline is among players that have received a green light to operate drone flights to deliver much needed supplies and personal protective equipment in the US, a country where the company has struggled to find a commercial foothold.

This is generally thanks to a group of Rwandan drone engineers who have been working with Zipline in Rwanda to deliver blood supplies and recently cancer drugs.

Last week, Zipline sent flight operators from Rwanda to the United States to train their American counterparts after the company received a go-ahead from the Government to deliver supplies.

"Last week, America took a page from Rwanda's playbook and launched @Zipline's drone delivery to help with #Covid19 pandemic response in the country," Zipline said in a tweet on Monday.

To help make the operation a success, Zipline said flight operators, like Fabiola Urwibutso, flew to America to help train the local staff.

Melissa Rusanganwa, the Regulation and Aviation System Integration lead at Zipline told The New Times that Rwandan flight operators are training their American counterparts as part of the process to kick off operations in the US.

"Fabiola is one of the people [trainers] who were sent because the American team could not come here. The idea is to facilitate kick operations, which is still very small," she said.

Rusanganwa added that when Zipline came to Rwanda, one of the things the Government wanted was to make sure that there is a transfer of skills and knowledge to Rwandans.

Zipline has its global training centre in Rwanda where a team of four certified locals have been training people from Ghana, the US and other countries in flight and fulfilment operations.

At least 181 flight operators have been trained so far, Rusanganwa said.

The company announced late last month that it had received approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its service began by delivering supplies to Novant Health's Huntersville medical center from a depot next to its facility in Kannapolis, North Carolina.

As the company kicks off operations, providing needed skills to US counterparts is important to realize their plan and break into the US market where the firm has its global headquarters.

In 2016, the drone logistics company started delivering blood in Rwanda in what was, at the time, the first national drone delivery system. Last year, it expanded operations to Ghana.

The company says its drones have made more than 40,000 commercial deliveries, flown over 1.8 million autonomous miles, and now, it's using its drones to help respond to the Covid-19 pandemic in both countries.

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