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Drone deliveries take off in Scotland during coronavirus outbreak

Drone deliveries take off in Scotland during coronavirus outbreak

Drone deliveries are taking off in Scotland 10 weeks after the coronavirus pandemic peaked. Vital supplies, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and Covid-19 testing kits, now arrive by drone up to four times a day on the isle of Mull in the inner Hebrides.

Drone deliveries take off in Scotland

The critical supplies are being flown in from the mainland as part of a drone test that could ultimately lead to the NHS using unmanned aircraft to fly medical supplies regularly to many of the 90 inhabited islands that are part of Scotland.

A second trial is delivering PPE by drone from Lee-on-the-Solent to the Isle of Wight. Both beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone tests had to be approved by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Drones have the potential to dramatically speed up the turnaround time for doctors to test and diagnose patients in hard-to-reach or remote locations.

“Laboratory pickups from GP surgeries up here can be very inefficient, with delays ranging from a couple of hours to two days if ferries are missed,” said Stephen Whiston, head of strategic planning for the Argyll and Bute health and social care partnership. “When you’re talking about serious and developing conditions those sort of delays are very serious.”

For instance, it could take anywhere from 90 minutes to six hours to transport supplies by road and ferry from Lorn and Islands district general hospital in Oban to Mull and Iona community hospital in Craignure on the island. A drone can complete the 10-mile flight in about 15 minutes.

The drone trial will last for two weeks and was organized by drone operator Skyports in partnership with defense and technology company Thales, according to The Guardian.

The second test is planned for later this year which is crucial because the Scottish weather can be very challenging during the winter.

The coronavirus has been very timely for the drone industry and has forced regulators to speed up the approval process to start drone test flights says Raymond Li, head of air strategy and marketing for Thales.

“This will also allow us to show the public the societal benefits of drones,” he said. “People will have seen the headlines about the drone at Gatwick and been worried about drones. Covid-19 may well change how people see their usefulness. They will see that drones can help save lives, and people will see the benefits to themselves and their families.”

The drone that is used during these test flights is made by the German company Wingcopter and requires a trained operator to pilot the unmanned aircraft.

“Just imagine a fleet of thousands of drones doing everything from search and rescue, and border patrol to delivering food,” Li added.

Drone deliveries take off in Scotland during coronavirus outbreak

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Photograph: Skyports

Haye Kesteloo

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