The Bahamas tops the list of places to take your drone on vacation, but drones are playing a bigger role across the family of islands than just the hobbyist’s toy. On June 18, 2019, aerial delivery service providers Fli Drone and Volans-i completed the first long-range drone delivery in The Bahamas.
Fli Drone is a subsidiary of Bahamian company Hogfish Ventures, founded to bring UAS technology to The Bahamas. In addition to providing drone delivery services through Fli Drone, Hogfish Ventures also runs Hogfish Labs, an R&D facility for UAS focused on beyond-visual-line-of-sight, and Project Hogfish, a Government procurement arm for emerging technologies.
Fli Drone has partnered with Volans-i Inc., a San Francisco based company that manufactures long-range, high-payload drones, to provide on-demand drone delivery services in The Bahamas.
“Logistics in an inter-island nation like The Bahamas is challenging. In order to move goods around, it involves cars, planes, and boats. Point-to-point delivery is nonexistent from a logistics perspective, so UAS is bridging that gap,” Andrew Frisch, Hogfish Ventures CTO & Co-Founder, told us in our recent interview with the company founders.
Robert Sweeting, Hogfish Ventures CEO & Co-Founder, grew up in The Bahamas and experienced these logistical challenges first hand. “Getting items like perishables, medicines, or critical items was really a tedious process. It can take weeks in some of the more remote areas,” he said.
In a recent demonstration, Fli Drone and Volans-i proved that drones can streamline the process of delivering goods to any island with minimal infrastructure.
Fli Drone and Volans-i’s First Drone Delivery Flight in The Bahamas
Fli Drone and Volans-i’s first long-range drone delivery flight covered nearly 50 miles and crossed both land and water. The flight lasted 28 minutes, originating at Abaco Aviation Services, a private fixed-base operator (FBO) at The Leonard M. Thompson International Airport in Marsh Harbour, and landing at Green Turtle Cay.
Previously this same delivery would require transit in both a car and on a ferry. Fli Drone utilized Volans-i’s long-range, high-payload drone platform to complete the flight. Vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities allowed the drone to land and safely deliver its payload without any infrastructure required.
The flight also marked the first time a drone had operated in controlled airspace at an active commercial international airport outside of emergency operations. Local officials, including Marsh Harbour Air Traffic Control, monitored the flights.
We see The Bahamas as a nation that is willing and wanting to adapt to match the pace of technology. Innovation in delivery systems, such as the leaps that drone delivery systems have enabled, should allow everyone to have new ways to tackle the challenge of getting supplies where they need them at the exact moment they need them.
—Hannan Parvizian, CEO and Co-Founder of Volans-i
In order to make the flight possible, Fli Drone spent nearly a year working to gain approval from the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA). According to drone laws in The Bahamas, commercial operations require a permit and special permission is required to fly at night, over people, beyond visual line of sight, or in controlled airspace. One large contributing factor toward Fli Drone’s approval was that they operate primarily over water.
“Being a nation of over 700 islands separated by water, for us to operate over water is a much greater reduced liability than operating over a dense urban area. Almost all of our flights are shore-to-shore over water,” said Frisch.
Fli Drone also put in extensive effort to educate the country’s leaders on the value drones could bring to the country.
“We did a lot of pro-bono education work with the government to explain to them how this can be done safely and properly, and we are now proving that to them,” said Frisch.
Fli Drone plans to expand their on-demand aerial delivery services powered by Volans-i in The Bahamas to 70+ locations serviced from two main hubs with a capacity of transporting 1,000 lbs. of cargo per day.
Establishing a STEM Culture in The Bahamas
As a fully Bahamian-owned company, Fli Drone has a genuine interest in the economic and social advancement of the country and the people who live there. Operating a drone delivery service in The Bahamas would bring news jobs to the islands and generate technological and economic interest in the area.
Leaders in the public and private sectors, including leaders of the Bahamian government, have shown interest in the economic and technological advancements that commercial drone use can bring to the islands. Members of the Royal Bahamian Defence Force, National Emergency Management Agency, and Ministry of Health Abaco attended the maiden drone delivery flight.
“The Bahamas is really working to bring in new technology to the country. First for economic stimulus and to create jobs, and second to increase the focus on STEM education. Historically the population of The Bahamas has not been STEM focused. The government is hopeful that emerging tech classes like UAS or clean energy will provide a bridge to the future for a smarter workforce,” explained Frisch.
Fli Drone’s parent company, Hogfish Ventures, provides humanitarian services and STEM education services through partnerships with the Bahamian government. They’ve also worked with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to provide post-hurricane assistance and disaster relief.
Hogfish Venture’s believes The Bahamas is the most opportunistic area in the world for UAV deployment and development, due to the unique inter-island landscape and progressive regulatory environment. They described The Bahamas as the “on-ramp” for the drone marketplace—a location where drone companies can come to develop, test, and utilize their technology.
“Bringing world-class UAV technology to The Bahamas is yet another example of Fli and Hogfish Ventures’ commitment to bridging the gap between Silicon Valley and The Bahamas,” said Frisch.
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