The U.K.-based drone operator and eVTOL infrastructure developer Skyports has partnered with Thales on a drone delivery trial supporting the Covid-19 response in Scotland.
The two-week trial is backed by NHS Highland — a health board of the National Health Service Scotland — and the Argyll and Bute Council. The goal is to demonstrate the feasibility of transporting Covid-19 test kits and other urgent medical cargo to and from remote medical facilities by drone.
Skyports will conduct the trial using aircraft from the German drone maker Wingcopter. The two-way flights will take place between a hospital in Oban, on the Scottish mainland, and another hospital 10 miles (16 kilometers) away on the Isle of Mull.
Currently, transporting test kits and specimens between the facilities takes up to six hours by ground transport and ferry. It is expected that drone transport will cut those delivery times to just 15 minutes.
“Delivery drones are a fast and reliable solution for vital medical supplies,” stated Skyports CEO Duncan Walker in a press release. “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.”
Skyports will plan the trial flights using Thales’ drone operations management platform, Soarizon. Alex Cresswell, CEO of Thales UK, said that the trial “demonstrates the positive role that unmanned technology can play in our society and represents a landmark step to accelerate its adoption.”
According to the press release, the project team has been working closely with the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to secure the approvals needed for the beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations. Following the trial, the team plans to continue working with the CAA and NHS to make services available to other NHS boards and trusts.
For Wingcopter, the trial comes on the heels of its selection as a winner at the SmartDevelopmentHack, a global hackathon under the auspices of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation. Along with its partners UNICEF and the African Drone and Data Academy, Wingcopter will receive up to 3 million euros for the establishment of a delivery drone network in Malawi.
“Drones offer the opportunity to quickly and easily take corona tests, drugs or personal protective equipment to places that are difficult to reach by conventional means of transport,” stated Wingcopter co-founder and CEO Tom Plümmer. “We are delighted to be able to help in Scotland in this way and hope to soon be able to help contain the pandemic in other countries and regions as well.”