Thales and Skyports have partnered to conduct a drone delivery trial for the NHS in Scotland to support the COVID-19 response across the UK.
The aim of the trial, backed by Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP), part of NHS Highland, is to prove the delivery of urgent medical cargo.
This will includs COVID-19 test kits and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) between remote medical facilities by delivery drone.
Skyports will conduct the trial and operate the flights using delivery drones supplied by unmanned aircraft-maker Wingcopter.
The trial flights will be planned through Thales’ leading drone operations management platform, SOARIZON, which offers digital tools to maintain compliant and safe drone flying operations.
Based at Lorn and Islands Hospital in Oban, the trial will consist of two-way flights between the hospital and Mull and Iona Community Hospital in Craignure 10 miles (16km) away on the Isle of Mull.
As COVID-19 testing rapidly gathers pace in the UK, the companies hope the proposed delivery service will help to ensure that isolated communities have access to tests, delivered in a fast and efficient way.
Currently, the majority of medical supplies and specimens are transported between the laboratory at Lorn and Islands Hospital and surrounding general practitioners’ surgeries and other healthcare settings by sea and road.
This service will see delivery times cut from up to 6 hours one-way by ground transport and ferry to around 15 minutes, on-demand, by drone, bringing considerable savings in terms of time and resource cost, as well as keeping front line medical and delivery personnel safer.
The two-week trial represents a crucial milestone for unmanned aviation in the UK.
Alex Cresswell, CEO of Thales UK, commented: “Thales’s technologies are playing a crucial part in the response to COVID-19 – both globally and here in the UK. 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.”
While Duncan Walker, CEO of Skyports, added: “Delivery drones are a fast and reliable solution for vital medical supplies. 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.
“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.”
Once the trial has been successfully completed, the team will continue to work closely with the CAA and the NHS to make services available in Scotland and across the UK to provide access to this innovative technology to a wide range of organisations, in particular a number of other NHS Boards and Trusts.
Insurance for this trial was provided by data-driven drone insurer Flock as part of its COVID-19 fund.
Commenting, Flock’s CEO, Ed Leon Klinger said: “A few years ago drone deliveries were no more than science fiction. Today they’re taking place around the world, helping to transport critical equipment like PPE and medication.”
“Skyports are pioneers in the space and it’s very exciting to have helped unlock the critical insurance needed for these flights to take place. We’re delighted to provide support for the trials through our very own COVID-19 fund which was designed for exactly this kind of exceptional operation.”
Adding: “Flock is rapidly becoming known as the go-to insurer for drone deliveries due to our in-depth knowledge of the industry, a fully flexible approach to insurance, and key relationships with underwriters, such as Allianz who worked with us to support this trial.”