Manna, the drone delivery start-up, plans to expand into six European markets next year as it eyes 2023 as the year for take-off for mainstream drone delivery.
Founded in 2019, Manna has been conducting tests launches of its drone delivery service in its home market of Ireland with a full-scale launch recently rolled out in a suburb of Dublin, delivering food and groceries.
“Towards the end of this year, we have identified another location in Dublin that we will launch in and that’s a bigger population,” chief executive Bobby Healy said.
The operations in Dublin are helping to hone the product for wider adoption, he said, and the company, which is backed by partners at DST Global and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, has much grander plans in mind for mainland Europe.
“We’re more focused on perfecting the product, perfecting the technology before we really roll it out any further, we want to make sure that absolutely everything is perfect and we won’t be ready to roll it out any further until early 2023, but from 2023 onwards we’ve identified six European markets and 70 locations around those European markets that we’re going to roll out in 2023.”
Drone regulations in the EU have been undergoing a shift in recent years under the view of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which has been rolled out in stages since 2019. Next year is set to be a pivotal year in aligning regulations across the bloc that will allow for the likes of Manna to expand under the new licensing system.
Healy is tight-lipped about where exactly in Europe Manna will be venturing but it will be dependent on how advanced each country is in implementing the new Europe-wide regulations and making more of their airspaces available to a wider array of commercial operators.
“The governments themselves have said we want drone delivery. We want the airspace below 500 feet to be commercialized and we want our regulators to do this. They want technology coming into their countries so that’s why certain countries are ahead of other countries in Europe,” Healy said.
“We’ve set ourselves a pretty good target of six key European markets, big European markets, and that will keep us busy for at least two years just rolling those out,” he said.
“I expect all the other countries in Europe to cascade soon after.”
In recent weeks, Manna has been operating in Balbriggan, a suburb north of Dublin. With a population of around 25,000 and growing and a dense mix of housing types, Healy said the town was an ideal location for Manna to test its mettle.
“Balbriggan was a great test for us because it was as hard a test we could get in a suburban context.”
The company has reached 14% of homes in the area in the first eight weeks of operations: “We expect to reach probably about 40% of the homes within the next two months.”
Manna works with supermarket chain Tesco delivering groceries in the area and with local vendors.
Healy said the town has a capacity for over 200 deliveries a day. As it stands, consumers are charged a delivery fee for their orders but he expects there will be “multiple different business models” down the line.
Drone delivery has had several false starts in the last decade but, Healy said, the slow build of the last several years is now starting to pay off.
“People heard Jeff Bezos eight years ago and they’ve been disappointed and let down. There tends to be a huge inward US view of when this is all happening and it’s not happening very quickly in the US. They need to look at what we’re doing and the regulatory position in Europe and that is going to be accelerating massively in 2023 and onwards.”
Broadened regulations in Europe will likely boost the landscape of rivals entering the market. Manna’s most notable competitor in Europe is Alphabet’s Wing, which has been operating in Finland.
“There isn’t going to be a monopoly in the air,” he added, but it won’t be a free-for-all either.
“It isn’t easy to meet the regulatory standards. It takes a lot of capital and a lot of time to get an aircraft that’s safe enough to fly over populated areas. You can have loads of startups but unless you have an absolute ton of capital, you’re not going to get your license. Even if the regulation is there, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be allowed to fly,” Healy said.
“We have to be able to show a comparable level of safety to an Airbus A320 that takes off at Dublin airport.”