If you want to see drones fly across Europe, we have some good news. airline this week Dronamics received a €2.5 million grant from the European Commission under the prestigious Accelerator program of the European Innovation Council (EIC).
Dronamics is Europe’s first licensed cargo drone airline and The lInternational Air Transportation Association (IATA’s) first strategic partner for drones. This has taken way too long.
But first, let’s talk about Dronamics. The company develops large long-range drones built specifically for cargo, such as the Black Swan, which can carry 350 kg over a distance of 2,500 km.
This mode of shipping is up to 80% faster, 50% cheaper and has up to 60% lower emissions than alternative modes of transport, including air freight, making it ideal for medium-haul deliveries.
This enables same-day shipping in industries such as pharmaceuticals, e-commerce, and emergency response. The drones can travel long distances, helping customers currently underserved by traditional delivery providers.
Europe’s slow approach to commercial drones
Commercial delivery drones have been slowly rolled out in Europe. In the US and Australia, their use is focused on small deliveries, such as businesses Wing (funded by Alphabet), Flytrexand Ziplinedelivering small orders for food, groceries and medicines in restricted residential areas.
In Europe, there is only an Irish startup Manna currently delivering groceries, food and medicine in Balbriggan, County Dublin. These operate on a model where goods are typically dropped in backyards or on a front yard, creating the burden meter challenges for apartment dwellers in European cities.
Regional droneports will be rolled out soon
The grant will support the development and roll-out of Dronamics’ cargo drone fleet, the deployment of the first droneports in its network, and operations in Europe.
Currently, the European Droneport network includes more than 35 airports in 11 European countries, including Belgium, Croatia, Finland, Italy and Sweden.
The droneports have many advantages over other cargo deliveries, such as easy integration into customer supply chains. Each droneport requires minimal infrastructure and can be installed on unused airfields, airports, seaports, logistics centers and factory sites. All that is needed are paved or unpaved runways over 400 meters long. This reduces installation and infrastructure costs, creating a more sustainable product offering.
The challenge of making middle class transport more sustainable
Moreover, while deliveries are by drone a huge benefit for the environment curiously enough, compared to gas-guzzling vehicles, there are so far no environmental subsidies for the use of delivery drones, unlike electric cars, vans, trucks and bicycles.
Dronamics has a focus on future sustainability, but flying a drone long distances with heavy cargo is a challenging task, so most companies fuel their aircraft until they have sufficient evidence of their proven business model. But Dronamics is taking a different approach.
The company recently entered into a partnership with aerospace technology developer Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS) to integrate hydrogen fuel cells into their aircraft. Currently, aircraft covering the same distance with the same cargo weight consume fuel, due to the challenge of long-haul flights powered by batteries or hydrogen. Fortunately, there is an abundance of R&D in this area, so we can expect big things in the coming years.
The company also collaborates with Zero petroleum who offers one direct drop-in replacement for existing fossil fuel, with the same performance and range, sustainable and fossil-free. It is manufactured by extracting hydrogen from water and capturing carbon from carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, a process that is completely sustainable when using renewable energy sources such as wind or solar. When burned, it emits exactly the same amount of carbon as is used in production, creating a fully circular process.
Drones are essential if Europe is to meet its climate goals. The aviation industry has a collective goal of net zero CO2 emissions by 2050. If the partnership can successfully develop a green hydrogen solution, it will accelerate the goal of sustainable, non-polluting fast delivery with mid-mile drones. This means fewer trucks on the road, less road traffic and less pollution. This is a win for everyone.