Crashing into middle-distance cargo logistics

Perhaps it was just providence that the Black Swan was born amid a snow storm on International Civil Aviation Day last year – the unmanned cargo aircraft is here to take the midrange air cargo delivery space by storm.

Built by brothers Svilen and Konstantin Rangelov, the black swan is a middle-distance unmanned air vehicle for deliverying cargo – the product of a seemingly crazy idea from an economist and an aerospace engineer who seven years ago sought to invent a faster and less expensive alternative way of transporting midrange cargo.

The result was the birth of a London and Sofia-based cargo drone company, Dronamics, which immediately set to work on the designs for the first black swan – and on December 7 last year, the cargo drone saw the light of for the first time.

Except there was no daylight; it was in the evening and a blizzard was blowing heavily across Sofia Airport in Bulgaria – but the new unmanned aircraft stood in its shining black glory and promise of faster same-day shipments to even the remotest of places.  

According to the company, the fixed wing drone was designed to carry up to 350 kg of cargo at a distance of up to 2,500 km at up to 80 percent lower cost than any aircraft in existence.

We have to say 2,500km for a cargo drone is indeed a significant distance. And covering that while carrying 350kg worth of cargo at 80 percent of the current cost for air cargo transport… well; we just had to repeat it to make sure that we got that right.

It would be awfully cheap.

But that is what the Rangelov brothers are promising.

“The unveiling of the Black Swan represents a critical milestone in the company’s mission to enable same-day shipping for everyone everywhere,” said Svilen Rangelov, Co-Founder and CEO.

“The years of hard work are paying off and as soon as we’re done with our extensive test program and obtain certification in 2022, we are going to begin commercial operations, serving customers in Europe and beyond years ahead of everyone else.”

It is 2022 now and we cannot wait to see the latest addition to the cargo delivery space at work, first in Europe before it spreads its services across the world.

The company has already prepared massive groundwork for this eventual launch, entering into a joint partnership with one of the biggest parcel delivery companies in the world, DHL, where the parties “agree to jointly develop solutions and offer same-day cargo drone deliveries to customers using Dronamics’ drone delivery network and Black Swan drones.

“Both companies are discussing mutual exclusivity for middle-mile drone deliveries in selected industries and markets. In addition, DRONAMICS’ goal to become carbon-negative by 2027 and direction to operate on sustainable biofuels in the future will play a part in helping DHL achieve its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.”

The drone company also has a similar agreement in place with logistics company Helmann Worldwide Logistics, just as it also secured partnerships with forty airports in 12 countries which will give Dronamics the space it needs for cargo storage and handling, and parking space for the drone as well as the commercial framework, which will be applied after the introduction phase is completed.

Svilen and Konstatin Rangelov. Picture: Dronamics

As part of the agreement, Dronamics will install standardised droneport equipment at the airports, hire and train local staff to operate and handle the unmanned drone flights.

“Dronamics plans to roll out a global network of droneports allowing the Black Swan to provide the critical missing middle mile in air freight. Whether ferrying vital supplies between islands or delivering critical spare parts deep into a country, Dronamics will link towns and cities around the world with each other in a way simply never possible before.”

Not that the black swan will be needing too much airport if the company is to be believed – the fixed wing drone needs only about 400metres of runway for it to take off and land. Besides, the runway does not even need to be paved, so the remotest of communities can benefit from faster airborne delivery.

To speed up the acquisition of the necessary documents to allow them to fly at the scheduled timeline, the company also engaged the services of leading European UAV consulting firms Murzilli Consulting and DMD Solutions, with a goal to obtain EASA operational authorisations for the Black Swan drone in preparation for its commercial roll-out.

“For more than 100 years people have designed airplanes for humans first, meaning they were never really optimised for cargo, and in fact, they’re quite inefficient,” Konstantin Rangelov, Co-Founder and CTO said.

“By being extremely focused solely on carrying cargo, we were able to develop an aircraft that is able to do the job at up to 80 percent lower cost than any other airplane, meaning we can bring the benefits of aviation to billions of people around the world who do not get regular air service.”

Hellmann sees a lot of potential for using mid-range drone logistics like the one provided by Dronamics in Africa and other places with limited infrastructure.

For now, though, the company is focused on the dense population, manageable distances, and supportive governmental institutions of Europe, especially between north and south Europe – between Germany and Hungary, where there’s a lot of automotive business, according to Jan Kleine-Lasthues, Hellmann’s chief operating officer for air freight.

There are also supply lines going into Italy that service the cruise ships on the Mediterranean Sea, he says, and fresh fish would be ideal cargo. Indeed, Dronamics is working on a temperature-controlled container.

Kleine-Lasthues thinks mid-range drones could help solve some supply chain problems.

“If the container isn’t arriving with production material, we could use drones to keep production alive,” he says. “But it’s not replacing the big flow – it’s just a more flexible, more agile mode of transport.”

Before cargo drones darken the skies, though, Hellmann wants to see how the rollout goes.

“First of all, we want to try it. One use case is replacing commercial air freight – for example, Frankfurt to Barcelona by drone; also, there’s a use case replacing vans.

“If it is working, I think it can be quickly ramped up. The question is how fast can Dronamics add capacity to the market.”


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