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A new drone route is now open in Malawi

Drones can soar over roads in the flood-prone region to help deliver supplies to remote areas.


Today the government of Malawi opened a new air route in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund for testing the viability of drone delivery in the region.

Drone delivery makes sense in landlocked Malawi, a country that suffers from dangerous flooding. Roads are often inaccessible and supplies are difficult to ferry to remote areas.

“Malawi has limited road access to rural areas even at the best of times, and after a flash flood earth roads can turn to rivers, completely cutting off affected communities,” said UNICEF Malawi Representative Johannes Wedenig in a statement.

The corridor — which covers a 25-mile radius surrounding the Kasungu Aerodrome in Central Malawi — is intended for testing the technology not just for deliveries, but also for disaster response. A drone can be used to collect aerial images of affected areas after a flood or an earthquake to help send relief.

The route will also be used to test the viability of using drones to beam down internet connectivity or cellphone coverage when infrastructure fails in an emergency.

Malawi isn’t the only country in Africa using drones to deliver critical supplies to remote places. In October of last year, the company Zipline began a program in Rwanda to deliver blood and plasma to clinics in the rural western part of the country.

With Zipline, health-care workers can request a blood drop off and within 30 minutes a drone arrives with the delivery.

That program was launched in partnership with the UPS Foundation, the shipping giant’s charitable arm, and Gavi, a vaccine fund backed by Bill Gates. The Rwandan government is paying for the service.

Meanwhile in the United States, drone delivery is still not legal if the aircraft is flying beyond the operator’s line of sight. But companies have still been testing delivery solutions. Flirtey, for example, made 77 deliveries in November last year between a 7-Eleven convenience store and customers’ homes in Reno, Nev.

© UNICEF/UN070227/Chisiza

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