Skyports and Thales have partnered to deliver Covid-19 testing kits to a remote Scottish island using drones.
The Covid-19 response trial, conducted on behalf of the NHS Scotland, will provide the Isle of Mull with coronavirus tests using drones from Wingcopter, a German manufacturer of unmanned eVTOL aircrafts.
As of 26 May 2020, 15,185 have tested positive for Covid-19 in Scotland, and of these, 2,291 have died.
The trial will involve two -way drone flights between Lorn and Islands Hospital in Oban, and Mull and Iona Community Hospital in Craignure, which is 10 miles away on the Isle of Mull.
UK drone delivery provider Skyports will conduct the trial and operate the flights, which will be planned using Thales’s drone operations management platform.
The benefits of using drones to deliver Covid-19 tests
The partners hope the trial will enable remote communities to access vital coronavirus testing. Currently medical supplies are delivered by road or sea, which can be slow an inefficient. This process currently takes six hours one-way, but will be reduced to just 15 minutes using drones.
It will also limit contact between front line medical and delivery personnel.
“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. 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,” said Tom Plümmer, co-founder and CEO of Wingcopter.
“For example, such a drone based on-demand service can be of enormous help to holiday regions that currently do not know how to deal with the upcoming holiday season. This is because those affected receive certainty more quickly if they suspect they have been infected with Covid-19, and appropriate measures can be initiated earlier.”
This follows a call from government and Argyll and Bute HSCP for solutions to the Covid-19 crisis, which saw rapid mobilisation from the aviation industry, as well as the the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Local Government, NHS Scotland and the Department for Transport (DfT).
Not only does the two-week trial offer an easier way to deliver supplies to island communities, it is also a milestone for unmanned drones in the UK. Current regulation means that drones must only be flow in the pilot’s line of sight. However, through close consultation with the CAA, the companies have been able to trial longer flights with the aim of unlocking “the transformational potential of drones for society when used in a safe, secure and controlled way”.
Thales and Skyports are also working together within the CAA Regulatory Sandbox programme to explore regulatory approvals can be obtained for more widespread beyond visual line of sight (BVLoS) drone operations in the UK. The companies will continue to work closely with the CAA and the NHS to make services available in Scotland and the rest of the UK.
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“Thales’s technologies are playing a crucial part in the response to Covid-19 – both globally and here in the UK,” said Alex Cresswell, CEO of Thales 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.”