Eszter Kovacs, Co-Founder and CEO of DroneTalks sat down with Santiago Barrera, COO at Aerialoop, at the 2023 Commercial UAV show in Las Vegas. Aerialoop builds drone delivery networks over cities, revolutionising the urban logistics infrastructure for faster and more efficient transportation of goods. 

Aerialoop operates within highly congested areas, overcoming the limitations of traditional ground transportation. They have seen success by replacing motorbike couriers in Quito, Ecuador and have since become the biggest commercial air operator in the country. By reducing congestion, the team are simultaneously reducing delivery times and minimising environmental impact.

Advantages of operating middle-mile drone operations

Aerialoop offers middle-mile operations, the logistic phase of delivering products from a factory or port to a fulfilment centre. The team delivers parcels and medical shipments in urban areas throughout Latin America. 

Santiago described Aerialoop’s operation as “a metro system that has stations all across a city that are strategically positioned at places where you have high densities of population.”

He went on to explain the benefits of operating within the middle mile as opposed to the last mile, “It’s simpler for the regulatory agencies because they are approving a fixed route. We’re not switching and going to somebody else’s house. We’re flying A to B all the time. So we found it the perfect first step to take into creating these networks for future cities.”

The first urban drone delivery network in Quito

We asked Santiago about the current location of Aeriloop’s airports or “hubs”. Within Quito, Aerialoop has 12 operation hubs across the city with flights running all day, making them the first urban drone delivery network with official permits for city operations worldwide.

Following the success of the company’s operations, Santiago outlined the success of their operations in Ecuador, sharing recent news that they have become the biggest commercial air operator in Ecuador.

Their main customers include laboratories and big hospitals - their most active hub being within a hospital itself, helping to deliver medicines and lab results as well as being a central point for other deliveries within the city. 

Santiago told us about their partnership with Serviantrega, a leading distribution service similar to FedEx, in Ecuador, Columbia and Panama, and how they fit into Aerialoop's end-of-year goal:

“They have like 60% of the market share. We’re sending packages with them. We started sending envelopes. We send out an average of 80 envelopes per day. But our goal by the end of the year is to transport 1000 of their packages per day.

How education on the drone industry builds social acceptance

With social acceptance being one of the biggest barriers within the drone industry, we asked Santiago about the social acceptance of drones and how the public has reacted to Aerialoop’s activity within the regions they are operating. 

“Our drone solution is environmentally friendly. It has a social impact because it reduces traffic. There’s a lot of motorcycles in Latin America, and we plan to reduce at least 5% of motorcycle use by the end of this year.” 

The problem, Santiago outlined, is due to people’s lack of awareness when it comes to drones, they feel less secure when they see them in flight - think they are under surveillance. 

To combat this, Santiago believes education is paramount. The Aerialoop team prioritises meeting with the communities they operate to explain who they are and what the drones are doing, to help minimise negative perception and further educate the public on the drone industry. 

Expanding the drone solution beyond Latin America

After hearing about the success of their operations in Latin America, we asked Santiago about Aerialoop’s plans to develop similar systems in different regions. 

He outlined Aerialoop's current discussions with various cities in Colombia, Guayaquil in Ecuador and their imminent plan to enter the US market.

Santiago also touched upon Aerialoop’s plan to begin looking at European markets. We asked how he would communicate this to European cities and government officials. He responded he would “discuss and propose a step-by-step plan” to bring Aerialoop’s drone solution to Europe. 

Santiago expressed the advantages of the company’s vast experience and hours of flying. He explained that the team runs regular additional flights on top of commercial deliveries, allowing them to stress test and build efficiency in their operations.

Operating 100 - 200 flights per day has allowed the team to learn quickly, allowing the team and stakeholders to have confidence that Aerialoop can add value to the cities and regions in which they operate.

About Aerialoop

Aerialoop builds drone delivery networks over cities to revolutionise the urban logistics infrastructure, enabling faster, more efficient, and sustainable transportation of goods.

Through the team’s transformative approach, Aerialoop seeks to elevate urban logistics, ensuring seamless deliveries and improving accessibility to essential products and services for communities.

We recently had a conversation with Claudia Bacco from Air Traffic Management magazine during Amsterdam Drone Week 2023, to discuss the latest developments in the UTM/ATM, AAM and telecommunication sectors. The topic has gained momentum in the aviation industry due to the implementation of new U-space regulations in January 2023. 

When asked for her opinion on the current state of the field, Claudia highlighted the contrasting mentalities between the UTM and ATM players. The older ATM industry prioritises safety and gradual implementation over rapid innovation, creating a divide with the UTM sector. However, the introduction of the U-space regulations has helped establish a middle ground.

Over time, those in the UTM sector have come to understand that progress cannot always be as fast as they’d like it to be and have learned to respect the approach and infrastructure of the existing ATM industry. At the same time, those in the ATM industry are increasingly embracing UTM infrastructure and the innovative mindset it brings to aviation. This has led to more progress in the UTM industry, which is picking up speed while still maintaining a strong emphasis on safety.

The state of ANSPs and ATM providers

When discussing the role of Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) in the development of UTM, Claudia explained that their involvement varies by country. In some places, drone operators are advocating strongly for BVLOS operations to maximize their potential, while progress in other countries is much slower.

Despite the varied pace, many ANSPs are interested in entering the drone industry, as the UTM space is gaining significant attention. However, Claudia and Eszter Kovács noted that a key challenge for many solutions is their struggle to differentiate themselves or effectively promote their brand.

Several organisations are all promoting their solutions, which offer similar core features, such as deconfliction. This, while important, continues to limit their ability to differentiate themselves from each other. Some ANSPs, like ENAV, have created their own UTM systems, such as D-Flight, but advancements in this area may take longer than anticipated. Claudia suggested that these smaller UTM players should also work on integrating with cloud services, which the industry has long been advocating for while being cautious of public cloud solutions due to cybersecurity concerns.

The development of Advanced Air Mobility in cities

Claudia shared her insights into Urban Air Mobility (UAM) developments across different regions, mentioning her recent attendance at MWC Barcelona 2023. The conference featured various telecommunications companies entering the drone industry, but she was, unfortunately, disappointed to find that discussions focused on the lack of progress and public adoption in the advanced air mobility (AAM) sector, rather than its future.

These conversations led Claudia to believe that the business model for urban air mobility (UAM) is not yet fully developed and remains a niche market. However, some organisations are pushing for air taxis at the Paris Olympics, potentially utilising pre-existing helicopter routes and vertiports. This effort is valuable for encouraging the public to consider future possibilities of AAM applications.

A highlight of MWC Barcelona for Claudia was the SK Telecom stand, which offered participants a chance to experience a virtual air taxi flight. Although she couldn't participate due to long lines, the concept aimed to familiarize the public with these innovative transportation methods.

Telecommunication organisations are moving into the drone industry, looking to provide services beyond connectivity 

Claudia shared that telecommunications companies are increasingly interested in the drone industry as they seek new methods to capitalise on their existing 5G networks. This interest has triggered a secondary effect, driving these companies to explore the market beyond merely providing connectivity.

She also mentioned that the South Korean government has recently required telecommunications companies to develop UTM networks. This development will result in more participants in the field, in addition to ANSPs. At this event, a telecom panel speaker also offered an analogy that resonated with Claudia. They compared drone and UTM development to the evolution of smartphones. Initially, smartphones were primarily used for making calls, with people spending modest amounts on SIM cards. Nowadays, phone calls are often the least-used function of smartphones. If the drone and telecommunications industries adopt a similar mindset, they can scale the market as smartphones have.

A similar approach can be applied to AAM, where organizations initially provide point-to-point transportation for individuals. This concept can be adapted for specific business cases, such as cargo drones, by both people and organizations.

About Air Traffic Management

Air Traffic Management is an online magazine dedicated to providing comprehensive coverage of the latest developments, trends, and innovations in the air traffic management (ATM) and communications, navigation, and surveillance (CNS) industries. As a market-leading publication, it serves as a resource for professionals, decision-makers and stakeholders involved in these sectors.

The online magazine features news articles, in-depth analysis, expert opinions and industry insights that keep readers informed about the rapidly evolving landscape of air traffic management. Topics covered include technologies, regulations, policies, best practices, and case studies related to air traffic control, airspace management, airport operations, and more.

About Claudia Bacco

Claudia Bacco is an experienced marketing and business professional with a background in various industries, such as telecommunications, IT networking, critical infrastructure, security, IoT, autonomous vehicles, UAVs/drones, transportation communications, air traffic management and aeronautical information management. Since March 2019, she has been the founder and principal of Grand Prix Marketing Consultants, offering services in brand strategy, content marketing, digital marketing and sales enablement.

Additionally, Claudia holds the position of Chief Marketing Officer at ComeTogether, a company focused on NFT ticketing, collectables, and memberships. She also serves as an Assistant Editor for Air Traffic Management, a publication covering multiple aspects of the ATM and Communications, Navigation and Surveillance industry.

At Verhaert Innovation Academy, Claudia has been a strategic mentor since 2013, coaching entrepreneurial talent in organizations to validate and launch new ideas. She has occupied various leadership roles in marketing and product management at companies like Frequentis, RCR Wireless News, AGT International, Nokia Siemens Networks, Vanu Inc., and Juniper Networks. Furthermore, Claudia was President of Telechoice Inc for five years, showcasing her ability to lead in a small and dynamic environment while delivering on project objectives.

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