Wingcopter in Malawi to stay
German drone manufacturer and services provider Wingcopter, has underlined its commitment to improving health delivery in Malawi, by unveiling the second phase of its project to speed up medical deliveries in the country through drone-based solutions.
After winning the €24million #SmartDevelopmentHack grant from the German government (we reported about the grant here), Wingcopter, along with their partners, UNICEF and the GIZ, chose Malawi to put the funds to good use, under a project they call Drone+Data Aid.
Under this ground-breaking programme, which has seen a lot of young Africans invaluable knowledge about drone technology since the African Drone and Data Academy opened its doors in January of last year, UNICEF is charged to take care of manpower development – ensuring that the academy keeps churning out African drone professionals with the right education to initiate drone technology projects on their own when they return home.
“Wingcopter’s duty in this project is to take charge of the drone operations,” said Andi Fisanisch, the Wingcopter Head of Humanitarian Programmes, in a paper she presented at the just ended Drones and Unmanned Aviation Conference in Johannesburg.
“In Phase I of the project, which we will be closing out at the at the end of June 2021, we were focussing on the drone delivery project in Kasungu District (in central Malawi, where the start-up delivered critical medicines to three health centres).
The last five weeks of the phase have seen the realisation of the remarkable feats in Kasungu, where Wingcopter made 70 Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flights delivering 80kg of medicines and completing nearly 6,000 kilometres worth of flight missions.
Besides training 15 more visual observes, the company also added four more health centres to the three already being served by the Kasungu Hub – Kapelula, Kuwamba and Simulemba.
“Phase II will be starting in July, and it will be focussing on expanding the gains of the first phase – we are talking about more deliveries from the Kasungu hub (at the district hospital), with the eventual aim of covering the whole central region (which has eighteen health centres); and also adding new districts to our delivery network.
Ntchisi, another district in central Malawi, has been earmarked as the next target under the expansion drive, with operations scheduled to start in the coming two months.
“We also plan to bring our new drone, the W198 to Malawi; which will make the country one of the first in the world to have our new aircraft in live operation.”
She went on; “What we have noticed over our years of operation in Malawi is that, in order to optimise drone deliveries, especially in rural locations, we had to find locations where we could make deliveries to many health facilities, and also finding the capacity to diversifying the medical supplies to be delivered. At the moment, we are delivering just essential medicines – anti biotics, malaria rapid tests as well as other essential supplies.
“We are working on getting approval from the local civil aviation to start transporting goods identified as dangerous – like tuberculosis medicine and dry blood samples. We are also hoping to start delivering vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccines – soon.
In Malawi, Andi works with a team which comprises drone pilots Nthambi Mpazanje and Pedro Neira, Deborah Mthambalika (who also doubles as the project manager), Malamula Manda, Jan Mostert and Soares Kanyenda.
The start-up says it has been really impressed by the Malawian contingent in the company setup, who Andi says have been great in the way they are running things and taking responsibility. Andi said the local contingent has been especially great in the company’s community engagement drive, where Wingcopter has gathered as many people in communities they operate in as they can, and explained everything they need to know about drone technology. The aim is that when the people see a drone flying above their homes and pastures, they will associate it with life and health, and see it as an ambulance, rather than a surveillance tool meant to spy on them.