Technology

Kenya Airways eyes medical deliveries for drone launch

KQ-cargo

A Kenya Airways cargo plane. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Kenya Airways (KQ) has partnered with a United Kingdom-based logistics firm to offer drone services as it seeks to diversify its income source and cut reliance on passenger travel, which has been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The national carrier announced on Tuesday that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Skyports to collaborate on launching drone operations in the country.

This comes just months after the regulator, Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA), legalised the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the country, triggering what is shaping up to be a commercial drone delivery race.

A number of firms have so far announced their drone operations in Kenya among them Astral Aviation, which is targeting the use of the UAVs in traffic management, training of drone pilots and mapping activities.

Others are Adriana and Drone Space, which have been licensed by KCAA.

In a joint statement, KQ and Skyport said that in the next three months, they would be looking for ways to commercialise using drones.

“The partnership aims to explore the commercial viability and impact of various medical, logistical and inspection use cases alongside Kenya's leading public and private institutions with the launch of the first drone delivery flights slated for Q3-Q4 this year,” they said.

KQ chief executive officer Allan Kilavuka said the partnership with Skyport supports its diversification plans into drone technology applications.

“It will give us access to available equipment and established operations that will lay the foundation for the Kenyan and regional drone market through our drone and emerging aviation technology subsidiary, Fahari Aviation," he said.

KQ, through its Fahari subsidiary, also wants to offer training, operations and traffic management services in the region.

Skyports will employ its operational expertise on beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), which places the company in a unique position to support Kenya Airways drone operation activities.

"Our partnership with Kenya Airways can unlock significant opportunities for drone deliveries and inspections in Kenya, creating time and cost savings for our customers and contribute to the growth of the country's tech and aviation ecosystem,” said Duncan Walker, chief executive Officer at Skyports.

The London-based firm has regulatory approvals to fly the UK's first BVLOS medical drone deliveries for the National Health Service (NHS), with operations currently underway.

The firm also operated the UK Royal Mail's first drone parcel delivery in Scotland in December 2020. 

Skyports has expertise in advanced air mobility and provides drone delivery services through its logistics arm - Delivery by Skyports, which offers unmanned systems technologies within the medical, e-commerce and logistics sectors.