Wingcopter opens new hub in Malawi
There was a flurry of activity on a piece of land just outside Ntchisi District Hospital in central Malawi in the past few months.
A group of construction workers gathered up and started taking measurements, marking this spot and that before hammering down a few wooden markers; soon they were digging trenches before filling them up again with concrete.
People might have wondered what was going on when construction seemed to suddenly stop after two concrete slabs were erected side by side. A few metres away, a small stretch of quarry lay like a seemingly abandoned building implement that had outlived its usefulness.
What was going on?
Suddenly, everything seemed to happen again at once.
With excited kids gathering up at the construction site, a haulage truck drove in one day, bearing a container that fitted perfectly on the abandoned stretch of quarry, with the two concrete slabs now suddenly turned into landing zones for medical drones that have become a common sight over the skies of Kasungu, 120 kilometres to the northwest of Ntchisi.
By now, if the big white Wingcopter logo on the container – which upon opening revealed a set of offices ready for operations – had not given the game away, the drones on the new landing zones certainly told the story of how easy it can be to set up medical drone logistics when all stakeholders are on board.
That was how Zipline came to be the flagship medical logistics company in Rwanda and Ghana.
And that is how Wingcopter is fast becoming the aerial medical transporter of choice in Malawi.
With the full support of the Malawi government, the Germany Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), UNICEF and other partners, Wingcopter has been running a thriving medical drone logistics operation in Kasungu. It was only natural that they had to expand into more areas.
And Ntchisi would be the next stop.
“We are excited to announce that we are open for business in Ntchisi,” the company said in a statement last week. “Together with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (ZIZ) GmbH and the Ministry of Health Malawi, we have added Ntchisi in Central Malawi to our drone delivery network. The quick set-up was possible because of our low-cost and light infrastructure model.”
A few bags of cement, a handful of bricks, some wheel barrowfuls of quarry stones, river sand and pit sand. A handful of willing workers. That is how easy it is to set up the take-off and landing side of a medical drone logistics operation. No fancy runways or offices – the Wingcopter drones in operation in Malawi – the Wingcopter 178 and its newer sibling, the 198 drone can take off and land vertically, so all they need is a solid patch of land to take off from or land onto.
The medicines of course do not come as cheap; but with UNICEF and other non-government stakeholders stepping in in this regard, the pressing conundrum has always been delivering these medical supplies with haste.
In Malawi, the government has opened up the skies for Wingcopter to bridge that gap.
“Now that we are ready to ramp up, the new hub allows us to expand our reach and impact even further to more communities and remote health centres in Malawi,” Wingcopter says. “With our hubs in Kasungu and Ntchisi we will be able to serve 40 health centres and up to 1.2 million people in need of urgently needed medical supplies, especially during the rainy season.
“Due to our philosophy at Wingcopter to provide local job opportunities, we will onboard seventeen Malawians to our team, including five pilots, for of whom graduated from the African Drone & Data Academy (which is located at the Malawi University of Science and Technology in Thyolo, south of the country).”
Funds permitting, the company is hoping to open up more hubs across central Malawi this year.
“With every new hub we serve many more people. These hubs are a solution to overcome terrain and climate challenges, creating infrastructure and expanding our services to communities all over the Central Region of Malawi – ultimately improving and saving lives through specialized drone technology.”