Dronamics, a European drone developer that recently became the world’s first cargo drone airline, has its eyes on the United Arab Emirates as the company prepares to mass-produce its remotely piloted Black Swan cargo freighter and expand operations into international markets. The company's ambitions in the Gulf Gulf region were amplified by an announcement this week of an interline agreement with Qatar Airways, which the parties claim is the world's first such agreement between an international airline and a drone operator.
In a letter of intent (LOI) signed at the Dubai Airshow on November 15, Emirati logistics company Aramex signaled its intent to use Dronamics’s cargo drones for same-day middle-mile and long-range deliveries around the world. The two companies agreed to explore joint deployment opportunities for the remotely piloted aircraft, initially targeting markets in the UAE before broadening their scope to international markets such as South Africa and Australia, according to Dronamics.
On the same day that it inked the deal with Aramex, Dronamics announced a separate joint venture with the UAE’s Strategic Development Fund (SDF) to establish a manufacturing facility for the company’s flagship aircraft in the UAE. SDF is the venture capital arm of Abu Dhabi’s Tawazun Council, which oversees the Gulf State’s sovereign wealth fund. It is also Dronamics’s largest investor, having contributed to a $40 million pre-Series A funding round earlier this year.
“SDF is committed to investing in financially sustainable partnerships that contribute towards building manufacturing and technological capabilities in the UAE,” said SDF managing director and CEO Abdulla Naser Al Jaabari. “Leveraging Dronamics’s pioneering drone technology and the UAE’s logistics ecosystem and advanced infrastructure, this joint venture will bring the manufacturing base of this advanced technological solution that we believe will be a game-changer within the logistics sector for the mid-mile delivery segment.”
The joint venture will finance the construction of the serial production plant, which Dronamics says will “fulfill the global demand and requirements for Dronamics’s international and local customers.” That facility is expected to open in 2025 and will have the capacity to manufacture 300 aircraft per year, according to Dronamics.
Dronamics’s deals with Aramex and SDF arrived on the heels of another LOI it signed with Emirates Post Group (EPD) in October during the official launch of the Smart and Autonomous Vehicles Industry (SAVI) Cluster in Abu Dhabi. EPG has agreed to “explore and trial” cargo delivery services using the Black Swan with the goal of integrating the vehicle into its logistics network. The deal will also provide Dronamics the opportunity to conduct proof-of-concept flight trials in the UAE starting in 2024.
The Black Swan is designed to transport up to 350 kilograms (770 pounds) of cargo across distances of up to 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) without any pilots on board. According to Dronamics, the remotely piloted vehicle provides a shipping option that is up to 80 percent faster than competing courier services while cutting operating costs in half and reducing carbon emissions by 60 percent. While the aircraft currently runs on gasoline-powered Rotax engines, Dronamics is exploring hydrogen powertrain options for future iterations.
Dronamics was founded in 2014 by Bulgarian brothers Svilen and Konstantin Rangelov, who dreamed of making express cargo deliveries available in remote and underserved areas with limited access to affordable food, medicine, spare parts, and other goods. The Black Swan can take off and land on runways as short as 400 meters (1,300 feet), which means it can utilize small airstrips where traditional cargo airplanes cannot operate.
The company obtained a light UAS operator certificate from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency in May 2022, clearing the company to conduct regularly scheduled delivery flights with its Black Swan drones—including beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations, which were previously considered too risky for drone deliveries. The Black Swan achieved its first flight tests in May this year. Two months later, Dronamics became the first cargo drone airline to receive official designator codes from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
While Dronamics works to establish a foothold in the Gulf States, the company is already planning to launch services in Europe in the coming months, starting with Greece. On November 2, Dronamics announced that its launch customer will be Hellenic Post (ELTA), the Greek national postal service. Initial routes launching in early 2024 will enable same-day delivery services between the mainland and the country's islands. Greece has thousands of small islands, about 300 of which are inhabited.
“Dronamics is on a mission to enable same-day delivery for everyone, everywhere, and joining forces with ELTA helps us move forward in our goal,” said Dronamics co-founder and CEO Svilen Rangelov. “This collaboration is a pivotal step toward empowering communities, bridging distances, and making essential services affordable and accessible for everyone.”
In addition to making plans to operate in Europe and the Gulf States, Dronamics is laying the foundation for a presence in Australia. In August, the company announced that it had appointed the first general manager of its Australian business division: Gavin Gomes, an Australian entrepreneur and pilot. Dronamics has had some presence in Australia since 2020, and the company has a manufacturing agreement with Quickstep Holdings, a major aerospace composite manufacturer in Australia, to help scale up its fleet of the fixed-wing Black Swan aircraft.