Is the first drone delivery trial blazing the path for autonomous drones?
Updated: Aug 9, 2021
Date : 6 August 2021
Researcher : Yip Wai Fong
With AirAsia venturing into a pilot with the government on drone delivery, Malaysia has
possibly set a foot into developing autonomous drones. If the trial is successful, the local
drone industry will be poised to enter the markets of transportation, logistics and supply
In March 2021, AirAsia and the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC)
announced a partnership to conduct a trial on drone delivery services. The six-month
trial also will also involve two local companies, VStream Revolution and Meraque Services.
The news signals an expansion of the current business types of Drone Service Providers
(DSPs) in Malaysia. The industry has built a forte in aerial mapping, infrastructure and facility
inspection, as well as crop spraying and seeding where most of the operations are carried
out within the visual line of sight of drone pilots.
A successful trial of a drone delivery service would be a game changer. It heralds a future
where flying drones will be managed remotely at a control base, without the drone
remaining within the pilot’s visual line of sight. Firstly, it would require a technological
breakthrough in the form of a successful deployment of an Unmanned Aircraft System
Management Service (UTM) that satisfies the regulatory requirements for flying beyond the
visual line of sight (BVLOS). Currently, under the Civil Aviation Regulation 2016 (MCAR), any
BVLOS flight has to make sure that it is conducted away from densely populated areas and
where there is a gathering of people. It is foreseeable that the regulations will have to be
updated if the government is serious about developing an economy for drone delivery
services. For that, it has to be clear about the economic advantages of using drones relative
to the current models of the transportation services.
In the context of Southeast Asia, Malaysia is not alone in its endeavors to expand its drone
industry. In the same month as AirAsia and MaGIC's announcement, Singapore, on the other
hand, has completed a two-year trial on UTM, conducted by Nova Systems and OneSky.
Their trial is one of the four projects co-funded by the Ministry of Transport and the Civil
Aviation Authority of Singapore to test the feasibility of drone deliveries. Nova System will
also be conducting a second trial using drones for shore-to-ship deliveries.
With the trial’s success, Singapore now has the foundation to birth not only drone delivery
services, but also to develop the sector of unmanned urban air mobility. Yet, such a day
where drones drop off groceries and parcels at condos or air taxis land at buildings’
designated drop-off zones could still be several years down the road. In Indonesia, for
example, the Japanese DSP Terra Drones successfully demonstrated their UTM to air-traffic
control agency AirNav and the Transportation Ministry back in 2019, but no new
development has taken place to date.
Coming back to Malaysia, the partnership between AirAsia, MAGIC and the local DSPs is a
step in the right direction to deepen local technological expertise in the drone industry. It is
hoped that this is just the first in a series, just like in Singapore, that will lead to the
development of a complete drone ecosystem here.