Drones for WFP’s cargo delivery: new tools for old problems

Looking for innovative ways to respond to the evolving challenges of humanitarian assistance

Ikenna Ugwu
Apr 27, 2018 · 3 min read

What could possibly be new in the World Food Programme (WFP)’s approach to delivering food and other humanitarian cargo across the globe? Well, exciting times are here! After several decades of using trucks, donkeys, manned aircraft, barges, ships etc. to establish unparalleled leadership in humanitarian logistics, WFP is on the edge of breaking new ground. In the new era of ‘drones’, more conventionally known as Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), WFP is taking bold steps to add unmanned aircraft to its traditional array of cargo delivery tools. Although drones are already in use for different purposes in various industries and within the organization for IT-based solutions such as data collection and mapping, WFP is poised to become the first humanitarian organization to safely deliver substantial quantities of humanitarian cargo using this technology.

WFP Chartered Il 76 aircraft loading for airdrop in Amman for the Syria operation. Photo: WFP Photolibrary

The evolving nature of today’s emergencies from traditional conflicts to insurgencies, the outbreak of epidemics and the ever-increasing challenges of reaching besieged locations make drone cargo delivery a compelling necessity. This is what WFP is known for: we thrive in innovations and agility; they form the core of our ‘DNA’. We go the extra mile, saving lives and changing lives. This is what attracted Captain Clifford “Cliff” Sweatte, a well-known drone expert who recently joined WFP, to lead the deployment of this technology in the service of humanity.

“On my first encounter with WFP during RPAS workshops in Rwanda and Dubai in November 2017, I was intrigued by its unique role as the world’s premier humanitarian cargo delivery operation and felt a strong attraction to support their vision to integrate drones as one of their numerous delivery tools,” said Cliff.

As drone-related regulations, authorizations, certifications and guidelines in most states across the world are still under development, WFP will work closely with national Civil Aviation Authorities, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and other relevant stakeholders during the approval and authorization process.

As WFP enters the ‘drone era’, Cliff will participate in an international panel at AUVSI EXPONENTIAL, a trade show bringing together 8,000 unmanned aircraft enthusiasts and thought leaders in Denver, Colorado between 30 April and 3 May 2018.

Captain Clifford Sweatte on the left. Photo:BNSF Railway

Cliff Sweatte is an international air carrier pilot with nearly 7,000 hours of flying experience, primarily on the Airbus A-320. He is also a licensed remote pilot. Prior to joining WFP, he worked with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as the Project Manager in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) division for their UAS Pathfinder Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight (BVLOS) operations in the Arctic and for BNSF Railway, and as a RPAS Technical Officer for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

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