Drones are delivering coronavirus test kits, protective equipment and medical supplies to a hospital on a Scottish island amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Health authorities in Argyll and Bute are flying the urgently needed supplies from Lorn and Islands District General Hospital in Oban, mainland Scotland, to Mull and Iona Community Hospital on the Isle of Mull, which lies around 12 miles away over the sea.
The two-week trial is hoped to enable patients to be diagnosed more quickly and could carve the way for more drone deliveries to be set up for other health boards across the UK.
London-based drone delivery firm Skyports, who have partnered with the aerospace company Thales, will carry out the trial and operate the flights, cutting delivery times to around 15 minutes.
Health authorities in Argyll and Bute are flying the supplies between islands in Scotland in an effort to help patients be diagnosed more quickly. Pictured: The drone created by the firm Skyports in flight
It also follows the swift mobilisation of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), NHS Scotland and the Department for Transport (DfT) in transporting medical care to patients amid the pandemic.
The milestone move has been backed by Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) which has continued to work with Skyports in order to use their aircraft technology to help public sector emergency services in Scotland.
The companies are working closely with the CAA Regulatory Sandbox programme to understand how the scheme can go on to carry out drone operations across the country.
Skyports will operate its flights using delivery drones supplied by unmanned aircraft-maker Wingcopter.
Currently, the supplies are mainly delivered via road and a 45-minute ferry crossing.
Those behind the scheme hope it will enable drone deliveries to be set up for other health boards across the UK.
They said it marks a milestone for drone flights in the UK as the medical deliveries will be going out of sight of the operator.
Joanna Macdonald, Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership chief officer, said: ‘I am delighted that Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership is again at the forefront in Scotland using new technologies to benefit our patients.
‘The use of drones provides real opportunities to improve services and will help enable quicker diagnosis for our patients.’
While Duncan Walker, Skyports chief executive officer, who has been developing plans with the NHS for 18 months, said: ‘Delivery drones are a fast and reliable solution for vital medical supplies.’
He added: ‘Skyports is proud to assist the NHS in Scotland with their Covid-19 response, helping to provide the essential healthcare that people need in harder-to-reach areas.
The drone delivery firm Skyports will carry out the two-week trial and operate the flights to the Scottish islands
The supplies will be flown between Lorn and Islands District General Hospital in Oban and Mull and Iona Community Hospital in Craignure, Mull (pictured is the Island of Mull)
‘Our trial in Argyll and Bute provides an important short-term response to the current pandemic and lays the foundations from which to grow a permanent drone delivery operation across a network of healthcare facilities around the country.’
Alex Cresswell, CEO of Thales UK, told ADS Advance Magazine: ‘Thales’s technologies are playing a crucial part in the response to COVID-19 – both globally and here in the UK.
How will the project work?
The drones will be operated from the ground by the drone infrastructure and delivery company Skyports
Remote pilots will be in charge of each flight to and from the hospitals
The devices can be flown up to 100km and will be able to carry between 5kg and 6kg of supplies
The drones have been given permission by air traffic control to fly in a segregated section – this will mean they do not come into the the paths of aeroplanes
Following the pilot study, companies will need to install technology that will enable them to identify the location of a drone to other aircraft
Drones were given permission to deliver goods to remote communities during the lockdown period from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)
In a 23-page plan, the CAA said drones can fly in designated ‘zones’ to deliver medical supplies if the operators meet safety standards and show they can fly and land the craft without fault
‘This trial demonstrates the positive role that unmanned technology can play in our society and represents a landmark step to accelerate its adoption.
‘We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with industry partners, regulators and government to establish the UK as a world leader in this exciting new industry.’
The trial is due to run until June 5.
The move comes just months after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps committed to fast-tracking the launch of trials to transfer emergency supplies between the Solent ports and St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight by drone.
In April, British Army helicopters were drafted in to help get equipment to the unit, the island’s only emergency facility, from 15-20 miles across the Solent.
The £8million pilot project was kicked into action to help patients in need of supplies amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference at the time, Mr Shapps said: ‘Earlier this year we awarded £28million to Southampton and Portsmouth to deliver a future transport zone.
‘As part of that initiative £8million was earmarked for testing drones and how they might be used to deliver goods in the years and decades ahead.
‘Of course now we have an urgent need, so we are making use of that testing programme as part of our response to Covid-19.
‘As a result I fast-tracked trials to begin next week to carry medical supplies and equipment to St Mary’s Hospital near Newport on the Isle of Wight.’
In May, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced that drones would be given ‘air corridors’ to deliver goods to remote communities during the lockdown period.
A 23-page plan by the CAA, said the drones will fly in designated ‘zones’ if the operators meet safety standards and show they can fly and land the craft without fault.
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