Zipline, a US robotics and drone company has launched its first Nigerian distribution centre in Kaduna State.
When the drone delivery service company raised a $250 million funding in 2021, the company said it will focus on the further expansion of its logistics networks in Africa and the United States.
Announcing its launch on Friday, Daniel Marfo, the company’s senior vice president for Africa said “We are bringing instant logistics of essential medical products to one of the most challenging states logistically.”
Zipline will use drones to make on-demand deliveries of several vaccines, blood products and other life-saving medications. Aside from the first centre—which houses a small take-off and landing airspace for Zipline’s autonomous drones—, Zipline is expected to launch two more centres in Kaduna state which will be capable of microtargeting the delivery of over six tons of medical products across 46,000 square kilometres per week.
In the coming months, Zipline will launch in Cross River and the Niger Delta region. Nigeria is the third African country where Zipline will be offering its services in. In 2016, the company started operations in Rwanda, as of 2021, Zipline reached 200,000 commercial deliveries and catered for 75% of the blood needs outside Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. Its services are also available in Ghana.
Prior to Zipline’s launch in Nigeria, LifeBank has been actively involved in blood and sample delivery across the country. However, compared to LifeBank’s quadcopters, the miniature unmanned aircrafts used by Zipline are faster and less energy-consuming.
Zipline’s reaction to insecurity in Kaduna
In 2021 when the Kaduna state government and Zipline signed an agreement ahead of the launch, Governor Nasir El-Rufai said that the partnership will strengthen the capacity of the Kaduna state health system. While this is impressive, questions about the height of insecurity in Nigeria’s North-Western region have been a concern.
Despite a ₦1.2 billion Aerial Monitoring System launched by the Kaduna state government in 2019 and the presence of the most critical Nigerian military establishments in the state, insecurity has remained a major challenge in the state in recent times.
Gunmen attacked the Kaduna airport in March and killed a staff of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA). In the same month, gunmen launched another attack on a train (via the Kaduna-Abuja railway), barely months after a similar attack in October 2021. These attacks, including the consistent kidnapping of travellers on Kaduna highways, define the state of insecurity in the state.
“We’re aware of how difficult it is to transport medicines across Kaduna due to incidences of banditry, insecurity, and instability. To just move a few medical products from Kaduna city to the west of Kaduna, you need a military convoy. The [residents] there are really in a very difficult position,” Marfo said.
However, Zipline is optimistic about its success in the state. Marfo told Quartz that “In the worst-case scenario when someone shoots one down, you cannot use it for anything.” The drones fly high enough to be out of sight from potential vandals.
Navigating the regulatory requirements
To operate in Nigeria, Zipline has acquired regulatory certifications from the Office of the National Security Adviser, the Federal Ministry of Aviation, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, the Nigerian Air Force and NAFDAC.
Governor Nasir El-Rufai described the process as “challenging” and also responsible for the delay in the timely take-off of the project.
“This is understandable given that it is the first time this new technology is being deployed in our country. As other state governments and private firms engage Zipline to provide these needed services, we believe that both Zipline, its partners and future customers will face a more informed, time-sensitive and responsive regulatory environment.” El-Rufai said.