FIA18: Astral Aviation signs drone deals and plans African network

African cargo carrier Astral Aviation has signed a letter of intent with Falcon Drones Technology to acquire two Lucas-F250 drones and has also outlined plans to develop a drone network across Africa, starting in Kenya next year.

Speaking at the Farnborough International Airshow today, chief executive officer Sanjeev Gadhia (pictured above) said as part of the deal with Falcon the carrier also has the option to buy an additional 10 drones in 2019.

The F250 is an unmanned aerial vehicle with a range extending 1500km, endurance of up to 10 hours, and has a cargo weight of up to 250 kilogrammes, capacity for Euro-pallet dimensions, folding wings, a folding tail, fully autonomous take-off and landing.

Gadhia said: “The Falcon Drones technology is truly ground breaking. At Astral, we are delighted to have secured this order with exclusivity in Kenya. It brings with it the exciting prospect of further expansion in the wider East Africa region.”

Astral Aviation has also signed a letter of intent with drone manufacturer Natilus for one two-ton drone, which it is set to receive in December this year.

The carrier Gadhia said at the airshow plans on developing a network across Africa, starting with domestic routes in Kenya in 2019 using its 1,200 kilometre range FlyOx drone, which is phase one of the strategy.

The drone will be able to reach destinations across the country from a specially developed droneport. The plans have been backed Kenya’s civil aviation authority.

He said the plan is to then roll-out a drone network in phase two in 2020 to the rest of East Africa like Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Sudan with Nairobi as the main logistics hub before it will start a network in phase three to the rest of Africa by 2022. Both these plans are subject to regulatory approval.

Gadhia said it will be first cargo carrier to operate commercial cross-border drone when it does this in phase three and this will include southern Africa and other part of the continent with the focus on point-to-point lanes and the last mile.

He said payloads will include humanitarian supplies (relief aid, medical supplies, emergency food), commercial services (O&G, mining, agricultural goods) and postal and e-commerce. Astral Gadhia said has also signed an agreement in Kenya with the government to move a payload textbooks to a primary school.

Gadhia said there is strong demand for drones in Africa as many communities in the continent are cut-off from other modes of transport, many in rural locations and he expects the market to grow.