Revolution.Aero Uplift: Dronamics cargo drones to be ‘faster than road, cheaper than air’
It started with cheese. When Konstantin Rangelov moved to the Netherlands to study aeronautical engineering, he missed his native Bulgarian feta-style sirene cheese – a lot. A simple remedy was suggested by his brother Svilen Rangelov: build a cargo-carrying drone that could deliver the cheese without the long delays associated with road travel or the expense of air freight.
The result was the foundation of their company Dronamics in 2014 to develop and operate large cargo-carrying drones as part of a same-day delivery service. Seven years later the company is about to launch a new funding round to begin production of its purpose-built drone and has appointed Sergio Oliveira e Silva to the role of chief operating officer (COO).
Silva will be responsible for the set-up and operations of the airline business, the deployment of the droneport network and managing operational authorisations under fast-changing drone regulations worldwide.
At the heart of the company is the prototype Black Swan. It is a fixed-wing drone with a single tractor propeller turned by a gasoline-powered Rotax engine. The company has plans to explore both the use of biofuels to minimise its carbon footprint and, as technology evolves, the potential to switch to electric engines to become carbon-negative.
‘Starting a capital raise’
The unmanned aircraft, with a wingspan of 52ft (16m), can carry 350kg (771lbs) of cargo over 1,553 miles (2,500km). “For the past three years, the company has been test flying a quarter-scale prototype of the Black Swan,” Silva told Revolution.Aero. “Now we are starting a capital raise fund to secure more investment, not to finish the prototype for certification, to enable us to build the first 60 drones in three regions: Australia, Canada and Europe.”
The first full-size prototype will be completed by the summer and commercial flights are expected to begin next year – first in Europe and later in Australia and Canada. Initial production will total between 60 to 100 aircraft, with one, unnamed, partner already booking the capacity of 42 aircraft.
The Black Swan is autonomously piloted in the cruise, responding to satellite signals and ground guidance. A ground pilot at departure drone port controls the taxi and take-off while another at the destination controls the approach, landing and final taxi. The aircraft is monitored during the cruise by ground pilots who can intervene, if necessary, from a centralised Network Operating Centre.
Dronamics plans to launch a Series A funding round over the next couple of months. Current financing is supplied by several venture funds and accelerators, such as Founders Factory, in the UK, Speedinvest, in Austria and Eleven Capital, in the founders’ home country of Bulgaria. The remaining shareholders are angel investors, mainly senior executives from the logistics, aviation and tech industries. The majority shareholders remain co-founders of the company Svilen and Konstantin Rangelov. Longer term planning includes an IPO.
The company’s director of Business Development Ivet Vidinova described the company’s positioning as laying between air transportation and road transportation. “We are trying to be quicker than road transport and cheaper than air freight,” she told Revolution.Aero. “At present, only 1% of air cargo is transported by air freight and there is big potential for growth. But because it is so expensive – up to 37% of the world’s cargo, in terms of value, is shipped via air – a lot of people would rather wait days or sometimes weeks for it to be delivered by road.”
Soon to launch Series A funding round
Venture funds and accelerators, such as Founders Factory (UK), Speedinvest (Austria) and Eleven Capital (Bulgaria)
Shareholders are angel investors, mainly senior executives from the logistics, aviation and tech industries
Majority shareholders are co-founders Svilen and Konstantin Rangelov
Longer term plans include IPO.
Cutting transport times by up to 80%
The Black Swan aims to carve a niche by combining the speed of air travel with costs closer to road travel, cutting transport times by up to 80% in some regions.
Central to this business plan is the drone’s fixed wing design, a proven technology which is much more fuel efficient and, therefore, cheaper than eVTOL technology, according to the company. Also, it will be easier and quicker to win certification for tried-and-tested technology than more novel designs, says Vidinova. “This type of fixed wing design has been produced for well over 100 years, whereas eVTOL is something very new and will be more difficult to get certified,” she says. “That will offer us a commercial advantage to reach the market sooner than other technologies.”
Silva sums it up the business proposition neatly: “We want to democratise the cargo business in aviation. That means manufacture and operate very efficient aircraft that transport cargo between A and B.” It is an appeal that has not escaped the attention of some very big, although as yet, unnamed, operators in the freight transportation sector, he says. “Of the top 10 big freight companies, at least 50% are very interested in us. Plus, one of the large aircraft OEMs has expressed interest in us transporting AoG [aircraft on ground] parts between airports and stations within 24 hours,” says Silva.
In addition to freight forwarders Vidinova confirms interest from a wide range of ecommerce companies, spare-part logistics businesses and pharmaceutical firms.
Dronamics has selected the three launch areas of Europe, Australia and Canada based on demand, client partnerships and a welcoming regulatory environment. Three subsidiary companies, whose identity will be revealed soon, are said to be leaders in drone regulations in their respective countries. They will service customers using the company’s proprietary cargo drones.
Commenting on the launch of Dronamics Airlines and the appointment of Silva, Svilen Rangelov, the company’s co-founder and CEO, said they marked a milestone for the company. “We are thrilled by the talent we are attracting to our organisation that is embracing our vision to democratise airfreight,” said Rangelov. “We will continue enhancing our experienced management team who will provide additional expertise to deliver our first commercial flight in a near future.”
So, next year, a Black Swan drone could be bound for a drone port near you carrying aircraft parts, pharmaceuticals and other essential goods. Whether those cargoes will include Bulgarian sirene cheese, at this stage, remains unclear.
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