In the same week that AustroControl (Austria’s air navigation services provider controlling Austrian airspace) put a tender out for a Traffic Management System for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, underlining the importance of drones going forward, Pharma. Aero and the Humanitarian Logistics Association (HLA) published their first White Paper on the use of drones and UAVs for the last mile delivery of pharmaceutical products.
The use of drones is fast increasing, deployed as they are in a great number of professional areas from the creative industries such as film, photography, and advertising, to monitoring in agriculture and forestry, or in rescue and crisis situations. And it is the latter, focusing in this specific case on the transportation of medical aid/pharmaceutical products, that a joint project group – Pharma. Aero and HLA – formed earlier this year, have looked into in detail and published their findings in a first White Paper.
Drones are becoming increasingly attractive for last-mile deliveries – courtesy: directindustry
Detailing the last mile
The joint project’s group aim is “to develop a strategic implementation roadmap that enables effective transportation of pharma and humanitarian medical goods to remote areas using UAV and drone technology.” In Pharma. Aero’s Project Sunrays, which looked at industry readiness for COVID-19 vaccine transportation, Frank van Gelder pointed out “An area that was not addressed in the project is the last mile distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines, and delivering the shipments to remote or less-resourced regions, which is still a major concern in itself”. Drones are a perfect solution for this last mile issue since they are far quicker and more flexible in covering distances to otherwise difficult to reach, remote areas.
Building on experience and expertise
Input for the White Paper which signifies the end of the first phase of the project was derived from a joint, exclusive webinar held by Pharma.Aero and HLA on 15JUN21, and a subsequent survey. The White Paper illustrates how UAVs compare to other transportation modes and looks at the regulatory framework for drone operations and applications of UAV in the Pharma and Humanitarian Air Cargo sector. In summary, the results show a growing trend for UAVs as the preferred solution for last-mile delivery, but that there are still a number of challenges with regard to industry and regulatory body requirements. These requirements need to be internationally regulated and standardized, with defined guidelines to ensure safety when deploying UAVs on final mile deliveries. “With this, there could be higher understanding and acceptance from the pharma and air cargo industry to increase the use of UAVs as a form of freight transportation in the pharma supply chain.”
Drones are here to stay
Trevor Caswell, Manager (Demand & Product Development), Edmonton International Airport and Vice Chairman, Pharma.Aero said, “With the advancements in drone technology coming so far in the recent years, the future of UAV is here. Drones being used for last-mile delivery are here to stay, and projects like this will provide insights to our members and industry on how drone technology could become more integrated into the pharmaceutical supply chains, delivering life-saving products directly to the end-user. It is very exciting for Pharma.Aero to be working with our partners on such a groundbreaking project, where we can incorporate both humanitarian logistical needs and advanced technology to ensure low-cost, reliable, and just-in-time delivery of essential goods to where they are needed.”
More to come
George Fenton, Chief Executive, Humanitarian Logistics Association said, “UAVs play a vital role in disaster preparedness and response, from surveying potential transport bottlenecks, to helping to quickly assess damage after an event. While drones are being used successfully for the last-mile delivery of small medical packages in countries like Rwanda and Ghana, larger capacity drones are needed to better support humanitarian operations in remote locations. More support is needed to help develop the national regulatory frameworks required to ensure the effective use of UAVs. The HLA is keen to help generate and share knowledge in the endeavor and is pleased to be collaborating with Pharma.Aero on this project.”
Phase two of the project will be a filmed demonstration flight of a UAV within Germany, which will capture the various steps of a supply chain journey. This flight will then be “showcased in an interactive and immersive 360° learning video giving our members and other interested parties the opportunity to explore the features and capabilities of drones and UAVs.” The capabilities are one side, the regulatory aspect another – one that at least AustroControl is proactively looking to tackle against the backdrop of the new EU regulation that came into being at the start of this year, looking to create a framework that allows for the orderly and safe growth in the drone sector.