The First Internationally Piloted Drone Delivery

A world first

At present, 170 countries are affected  by the pandemic, COVID-19. The rate of infection continues to rise fivefold on a daily basis across the world, and the data continues to highlight the transnational force of contagion. To date, there is no unifying or effective method to treat the disease or its spread, which would need the capacity to reach and save an estimated 5.3 billion people who are expected to contract the illness in the coming months.

The COVID- 19 pandemic we face currently is an important reminder of the power of infectious diseases.

But, in the midst of all this doom and gloom, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted some important lessons for the global health sector. It offers a critical insight into how innovation and advanced technology may better equip and support us as we tackle this global pandemic and handle public health emergencies to contain, mitigate and eradicate the spread of infectious diseases globally.

A tailored global response to COVID–19

Yesterday, Swoop Aero took a leading role in global health transformation. We became the first drone logistics company globally to operate a fleet of aircraft from outside the country of operation. We have deployed this capability in order to support the Malawian national government’s health system as they commence their response to the pandemic. With the backing of the College of Medicine  and the Malawian Department of Civil Aviation, our ground operations teams, staffed by local Malawians that have been trained over the last few months, made this possible. There were no members of the Australian flight operations team present, as they have all returned to Australia to comply with the government’s strict travel restrictions. The goal of this remotely piloted operation is to support the government’s COVID-19 response following reports of an acceleration of reported cases across the country. It means that our local Malawian ground operations teams are not losing their jobs at a difficult time for the economy. In addition, at a time when normality has been suspended for most, this means that we can continue routine flight operations in our network, delivering essential healthcare supplies for pre-existing communicable diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB.

This unprecedented step forward in the aeromedical drone logistics sector is a testament to the incredible technology of the Swoop Aero system; and, the reality of being able to execute this safely is a testament to years of hard work in ensuring the system meets the highest aviation standards.  The Swoop Aero Control Platform remains the primary interface for the coordination, management and automation of the physical aircraft. In addition to piloting the flights, the software also manages the coordinated efforts of local Malawian team members and Australian staff to conduct flights safely, in accordance with industry regulatory standards. The Control Platform ensures that all flights can be safely piloted from anywhere in the world to ensure the aircraft safely follows the correct flight route, with speed, precision and reliability, and thus, reaches the specified location on time to deliver essential supplies. Furthermore, this system gives Swoop Aero team members an ‘eye in the sky’, an Air Traffic Management platform, to oversee the local airspace and manage multiple flights at any one time, in order to safely achieve the best possible outcomes for the health system. . Our continued efforts in this challenging period will have sustained benefits for the Malawian population and have demonstrated the sustainability, longevity and adaptability of the network to operate in a host of challenging and unforeseen circumstances. 

Why is this necessary? Africa’s vulnerability to infectious diseases

There is “real fear that health systems become swamped and unable to manage their ongoing health care, thereby presenting an even greater threat than the virus”.

Trudie Lang, Director of the Global Health Network at Oxford University

The significance of this pandemic is increased by the challenges faced by the global health system to cope with a new disease outbreak. Malawi is identified within the geographical region termed the “disease hot spot belt”. As identified by Trudie Lang, Director of the Global Health Network at Oxford University, there is “real fear that health systems become swamped and unable to manage their ongoing health care, thereby presenting an even greater threat than the virus”. The continuation of the Swoop Aero air transportation service to assist the government and alleviate some of this burden, has allowed routine and emergency measures to remain in place. The intention is to scale up the size of the drone network to facilitate more flights per day. Each flight undertaken carries a cargo payload of 3kgs, which represents between eight and ten COVID-19 testing kits per flight which are able to be delivered easily into a remote village, without risk of infection. The integration of COVID-19 tests and samples, alongside our continued medical commodity transportation services, helps to strengthen the local health supply chain effectively during a period of increased demand for the health sector and associated resources. 

Air transport using drones will increasingly become integral in maintaining open health supply chains to transport essential medical commodities, which can effectively service vulnerable populations forced into isolation. The aeromedical logistics solution that Swoop Aero has developed eradicates the need for human-to-human contact within the delivery process as the flights and operational procedures of the aircraft are coordinated and managed remotely. We also have a range of proven procedures designed to address decontamination in a time of crisis such as the present. The multi-network fleet of Swoop Aero aircraft offers the most viable and effective solution to administer a mass number of COVID-19 tests, transport essential healthcare supplies to remote and elderly populations that are running low on routine products, and facilitate the continued operation of the global health sector to minimize the additional strain of preventable illnesses on an already stressed global health workforce and resource pool. From Africa to Australia, this solution remains cost-effective, viable and proven to deliver.

 

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