One of the biggest barriers to global humanitarian aid efforts is and has always been access. There’s only so much an organization like the United Nations can do when up against bureaucratic restrictions, thefts of humanitarian assets in transit and, crucially, weak transportation infrastructure.
“More than a billion people are disconnected from reliable roadways,” Kofi Asante, vice president of strategy and business development for drone maker Elroy Air, told eVTOL.com. “That means if you were to use a truck, you wouldn’t be able to accomplish these types of missions.”
Asante’s company, Elroy Air, is one of the leaders in the drone delivery space, and this week the Bay Area-based company announced a partnership with London-based AYR Logistics, an aircraft operator that works with humanitarian groups like the U.N. and the World Food Program, to deliver 100 of its Chaparral drones. The partnership will see the Chaparral’s capabilities used to expand AYR Logistics’ humanitarian operations.
Representatives from both Elroy Air and AYR Logistics revealed details of their plan to build a fully autonomous cargo delivery service for humanitarian projects at the Dubai Airshow this week.
“Improving logistics for humanitarian aid is a perfect mission for Chaparral; the need is urgent, the terrain is difficult, and the cause is worthy,” Elroy Air CEO David Merrill told Modern Shipper. “I believe our partnership with AYR Logistics will amplify AYR’s ability to serve populations in need and is a great business opportunity for both companies.”
Elroy Air’s Chaparral is an aerial cargo drone with vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities that are best suited for longer missions. It can carry a payload of 300-500 pounds over a distance of 300 miles, and according to AYR Logistics, it’s the perfect drone for the job.
“The Elroy Air Chaparral ticks all the boxes for us in terms of costs, safety and environmental footprint. This aircraft will provide a very efficient platform for our humanitarian operations and capacity building projects and is ideally suited to operating in remote locations without infrastructure or ground support,” explained Chief Development Officer Stephen Lyons. “We see the Chaparral as an essential part of our future operations, delivering critical food, shelter, medical supplies, vaccines and equipment directly to those affected communities.”
The Chaparral also includes an aerodynamic cargo pod, which can autonomously pick up, transport and release cargo that has been prepacked by ground personnel. The ability to operate on autopilot will make the delivery of humanitarian aid more efficient by reducing the reliance on people.
“We’ve designed and built the Chaparral aircraft to safely take off and land without any infrastructure and to operate autonomously to deliver medical supplies, food, water and vaccines more frequently to the people who need it most,” Asante said.
Over the next five to seven years, AYR Logistics will purchase 100 Chaparral drones. Elroy Air has set a goal to get the aircraft certified and begin test flights in 2022, with plans to deploy the drones on humanitarian missions in 2023.
Elroy Air isn’t the first drone company to use its aircraft for humanitarian purposes. Zipline has been delivering medical supplies in Africa for years, transporting 75% of the blood supply in Nigeria, Ghana and Rwanda. Then there’s Matternet, which is building a humanitarian drone delivery network across West Africa.
One benefit of using drones over alternative methods is their ability to streamline timely deliveries of things like vaccines whenever and wherever they’re needed without having to navigate a patchwork system of roads. They can also fly around the clock or in difficult weather conditions, meeting demand whenever and wherever it pops up.
Another is their supply chain management capabilities. Technology onboard drones can be used to track inventory, control temperature and capture images and video from the sky, providing visibility and control over the humanitarian delivery network.
And according to AYR Logistics CEO Serge Sergeef, Elroy Air’s Chaparral is perfect for humanitarian missions because it can wrap all of those functions into one self-piloting aircraft.
“We are very excited to be working with Elroy Air as their humanitarian partners. Our aircraft need to operate in incredibly challenging and austere conditions, frequently without basic airport infrastructure, so we are very particular about the equipment we use,” he said. “We need highly efficient and cost-effective aircraft with excellent dispatch reliability that provide 24-hour, all-weather operations and perform vertical takeoff and landing with pinpoint accuracy. We believe Elroy Air will provide us with that capability.
“For us, these cargo UAVs are heralding a new era in logistics and will undoubtedly become the new workhorse for humanitarian agencies.”