DHL expanding drone activities with middle-mile UAV deliveries

cargo drone delivery

Global logistics giant DHL says it’s expanding its drone activities with middle-mile uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) deliveries. First flights of the same-day service are expected later this year.

Bulgarian UAV service group at center of longer drone delivery developments

To expand what has thus far been DHL’s deployment of smaller drones for limited last-mile operations, the freight forwarder has teamed up with Bulgarian automated craft manufacturer and service company Dronamics. Under the deal, DHL will extend its drone activities with new middle-mile UAV deliveries on medium-distance, cross-border, and inter-city missions. The development follows Donamics inking a deal last month with the German-based Hellmann Worldwide Logistics for flights on longer trans-European deliveries. 

Motivations behind both partnerships are similar. The turn to automated airborne options seek to speed supply chains that remain severely disrupted by the global pandemic. Flights of passenger and cargo planes are still lower than in pre-COVID-19 times, and many ports are clogged with the resulting spillover of spiking marine shipping volumes.

Use of electric powered craft, meanwhile, allows transport and logistics companies – and, by extension, the clients using them – to lower their carbon imprint. DHL has said it aims to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Under the accord, Dronamics will use its growing network of 39 airports in 13 countries across Europe to operate flights of its automated Black Swan craft. The first production-scale version of that plane will be ready in October, with a maximum flight distance of 100 km. By contrast, Hellmann Worldwide plans use Black Swans and their 350 kg. maximum payload on missions of  up to 2,500 km. 

Global freight forwarders extending drone delivery range

The difference reflects DHL’s strategy in extending its drone activities into new middle-mile UAV deliveries as a link between its robust capacities in global transport, and vast local last-mile networks. DHL, which is a part of the Deutsche Post DHL Group, says it will initially launch the service in European and Asia-Pacific markets. It has already been using smaller drones for last-mile deliveries of smaller parcels, medical supplies, and urgent documents in Germany, Tanzania, and China.

“We are constantly exploring new technologies to bring value to our customers, and we believe that cargo drones will be an element in the next generation of transportation in logistics,” says DHL senior vice president and global head of innovation and commercial development Matthias Heutger. “Dronamics is a pioneer and leader in the field of cargo drones and our collaboration will help to open up opportunities for urgent, sensitive and time-critical deliveries.”

DHL and Hellmann Worldwide are far from the only global freight forwarders to be turning to UAV transport as a future mainstay. Heavyweight DB Schenker said earlier this month that it’s continuing work with fellow German heavyweight Volocopter in the development of a cargo drone with a maximum 200 kg payload and 40 km flight capacity.

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