Nairobi-based Astral Aviation is looking to bring Amazon-style drone deliveries to Africa, and is running a ground-breaking pilot project with the Post Office of Kenya.
Sanjeev Ghadia, CEO of Astral Aviation, explained: “We’re very excited to work on a pilot project which is the first one of its kind in Africa. We’re in collaboration with the Post Office of Kenya. We are doing a three-month test project, very similar to what Amazon is doing in the UK.”
The service uses five-kilogramme drones and a personal post office box – the AirBox – which is placed outside the house or business. Mail, courier and online shopping deliveries can be delivered to the AirBox and the recipient receives a notification.
“This has a number of benefits,” Ghadia said. “The main one is the fact that it [provides an] address, which is something we so badly require, because 99% of the population of Africa does not have an address. “
Astral Aviation also deploys larger drones for multi-purpose cargo and humanitarian use cases.
The company’s Flyox cargo drone, for example, has varied applications. In the morning, it could be spraying crops, in the afternoon doing deliveries for the post office and in the evening, transporting oil and gas mining equipment.
Ghadia said: “The two-ton cargo drone will have multi-purpose applications. We plan to start it off with the aid relief sector, by providing a reliable transportation system for the transportation of relief and aid cargo in regions which are affected by conflict or by famine, and then we’re also looking at other applications, such as oil and gas and mining.”
He added: “It has multiple applications which can be [carried out] with the same asset and the ability for the pilot on the ground to actually fly a number of the cargo drones without leaving the comfort of his chair.”
This is the first cargo drone in in the world to be operating like this. Unsurprisingly, regulation has been a hurdle.
Ghadia said: “It’s been a very difficult journey. We had three rejections, and the rejections were mainly because of the lack of understanding of what the cargo drone could do. After nine months of working very closely with the regulators, we finally managed to get our approval in February this year, and we expect to test the drone by July, in Kenya, for a period of three to six months in different elevations, so that we can get the optimum levels of flight performance. By the end of this year…we [will] be able to offer it as a commercial service.”