Manna Drone Delivery is beginning official operations soon after performing nearly 90,000 test flights. (Photo courtesy of Manna Drone Delivery)
This week, Manna Drone Delivery is planning to launch commercial operations of its custom-developed aerospace grade drones. The company claims it is the largest drone delivery operation in Europe, and has raised a total of $35 million in venture capital funding since 2018. Manna has been operating since 2020 in Ireland and has recorded about 5,000 real-world deliveries between the suburbs of Galway and Dublin. The team has also performed close to 90,000 test flights to date. The upcoming launch will happen in Balbriggan, a suburb of Dublin.
Manna’s head of U.S. operations, Andrew Patton, recently shared some details about the company’s progress and upcoming goals in an interview with Avionics International. “Expect to see partnerships with some extremely large multinational brands in the second half of 2022 or the first half of 2023—both in the U.S., where we will fly in 2022, as well as internationally,” he stated.
One challenge that Manna’s team hopes to solve is determining how to connect unmanned aircraft system (UAS) traffic management with current manned air traffic management (ATM) surveillance systems. “There is still a lot of ambiguity as to how this looks at scale,” according to Patton. For Manna and other small UAS companies, the existing regulatory framework enables significant development. Patton explained, “The regulations—especially in Europe—allow us to get pretty far down the track for a long time, meaning it’s really on us to continue developing the technology, operations, and demonstrated expertise that the regulators are going to need to give us a set of rules that can truly allow us to scale without limitation.” Another important factor is Europe’s U-space regulatory framework, which will become applicable in early 2023.
"It’s really on us to continue developing the technology, operations, and demonstrated expertise that the regulators are going to need to give us a set of rules that can truly allow us to scale without limitation." – Andrew Patton, Head of U.S. for Manna (Manna Drone Delivery)
An advantage of Manna’s business model is the scalability that is enabled by the software platform they use to manage overall operations. “We have a lot of technology developed in-house,” Patton said. The company’s “simple but robust hardware and software in our system allow safe, simple operations,” in particular for last-mile deliveries in the U.S. and Europe. “We have utter commitment to the direct-to-backyard use case—extremely focused on suburbia, and on delivering at low cost,” he emphasized.
Patton foresees improvements in mechanisms for electronic conspicuity being rolled out and adopted to facilitate integration of drones into the manned aircraft airspace. He added, “Very low-power ADS-B In receivers would be very interesting on low-altitude drones.”
He also predicts that urgent package delivery with low payloads will become ubiquitous in urban areas within the next 10 to 15 years. “It’s going to be far cheaper, more environmentally friendly, safer, and a more efficient, better customer experience than any other type of delivery,” Patton noted. With urgent package delivery, he said, the incremental cost of ordering items will ultimately drop to zero—much like ordering packages on Amazon Prime, where there is no added charge for delivery.
(Manna Drone Delivery)
Long-term, Manna Drone Delivery’s team intends to focus on vehicle safety, reliability, speed of delivery, and minimization of carbon footprint, as well as the development of technologies to accomplish these goals. “We will contribute a lot with hardware development or overall system development,” Patton said. “We also want to be a good actor: we think a lot about how this fits into a manned traffic management system where other companies might join us in the skies in a safe and organized way. We think about how that UTM system connects to manned aviation and how we ensure safety there, and how we integrate with retail, broadly speaking.”