Since 2017, Wingcopter has defined itself as a manufacturing and service provider specializing in urgent deliveries. In keeping with its mission, the German-based company has signed a partnership agreement to work with Continental Drones of Accra, Ghana, involving a plan to establish thousands of drone-based delivery network across sub-Saharan Africa over the next five years.
Under the terms of the deal, Wingcopter will supply up to 12,000 Wingcopter 198 drones to Continental Drones, a subsidiary of Ghana- and Dubai-based Atlantic Trust Holding, an investment company. Continental Drones is now a Wingcopter Authorized Partner for all 49 sub-Saharan countries. If the project succeeds, it will be the largest commercial drone deployment in history, according to the company.
Billed as “the world’s first triple drop delivery drone,” the Wingcopter 198 is an eVTOL capable of delivering as many as three packages of up to 6 kilograms [5 kilograms with triple drop] over a range of up to 110 kilometers. It offers a default cruising speed of 100 kilometers/hour and an ability to fly against wind resistance up to 15 meters per second (33 miles per hour) on average and through 20 meters/second (44 mph) gusts. The Model 198 “can take off and land vertically like a multicopter while flying long distances as efficiently and quickly as a fixed-wing aircraft, even in rain and strong winds,” according to company marketing materials. One pilot can control and monitor up to 10 model 198s.
“With our longstanding business experience on the ground and Wingcopter’s best-in-class drone technology, these networks offer a real chance to fuel economic development and help improve the livelihood of millions,” Alexander Asiedu, founder of Continental Drones and chairman of Atlantic Trust Holding, said in a release.
“Wingcopter is well positioned to execute against the tremendous opportunity of drone delivery in the next decade,” added Tom Plümmer, co-founder and CEO of Wingcopter, also in a release. “We are convinced that our cooperation with Alex and his Continental Drones team will unlock the African drone delivery market on a large scale, allowing us to jointly improve and save millions of lives.” First deployment is expected in early 2023.
Scalability Nay or Yea?
One German industry insider has his doubts. His concerns are not about the technology—the Model 198 recently received a Special Class Airworthiness certificate from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration—but about the company’s ability to grow so quickly.
“Even if they were able to scale up their production capacity, the number of microprocessors they would need is “simply not available,” he said.
The industry observer was also skeptical of the business case. From a drone operator’s point of view, Africa is a good place to do business because of its generally light airspace regulations. However, most African markets are poor, which would make drone deliveries uneconomical for most purposes, he said.
But Continental Drone’s parent investor, Atlantic Trust Holding, finds Wingcopter’s case convincing, despite a lack of aeronautics in its background.
Atlantic is a 20-plus-year-old conglomerate headquartered in Tema, Ghana, and Dubai that began in real estate and has since diversified into a wide range of enterprises, including a television network, a steel plant, palm oil plantations and a gold mining company.
And Atlantic is not alone. Wingcopter recently announced another part of a Series A extension round that tripled the company’s total equity base to more than $60 million. New investors include the REWE Group, owner of the major German supermarket chain of the same name, as well as German investors Salvia (an early investor in BioNTech, the COVID mRNA vaccine maker) and XAI technologies, a fund backed by machine vision pioneer Enis Ersü.
Wingcopter plans to use some of the funds to expand its current delivery network in the tiny country of Malawi, where the company has been active since 2019. More drones and delivery hubs for various medical goods are at the top of management’s wish list.