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Date:03/06/20

Scottish island pilots drone deliveries of medical supplies

In a field overlooking the Lorn and Islands Hospital in the town of Oban on Scotland's remote west coast, an anxious Duncan Walker trained his eyes above a nearby hill.
 
Walker, chief executive of drone delivery company Skyports, is working with Britain's National Health Service (NHS) to trial whether medical supplies like COVID-19 tests and protective equipment can be flown from the hospital to the Isle of Mull, around 10 miles (16 kilometres) away.
 
"We've been working on the project for nearly 18 months now, building up the technology, making sure it's all working and testing. But as COVID came along, the need for the solution really accelerated," Walker said.
 
The trial is a milestone for unmanned aviation in the UK, as under current regulations drones must always be flown within visual line of sight of the remote pilot.
 
Walker and his drone team are feeding data and reports collected from the flights to the Civil Aviation Authority after each day of flying.
 
If successful, the service will cut delivery times from up to six hours, by ground transport and ferry, to around 15 minutes.
 
It is hoped that the project will open the way for urgent medicine to be delivered to islands and remote locations across the UK.
 
"We can transport anything really up to about five kilogrammes," Walker says.
 
"We can do it under cold storage conditions. It is temperature controlled the whole way there and back."
 
Stephen Whiston, who has been overseeing the project for the NHS, called it "a groundbreaking piece of work in the UK" that could also open the way for drone deliveries in urban areas.
 
"There have been lots of trials obviously, commercially, but this is about looking at how they can support NHS delivery, not only in remote isolated areas but potentially into the urban areas where you have congestion and delays in traffic, where you might need to transport stuff," he added.
 
On the field, a faint buzzing sound in the distance heralded the arrival of a vehicle making the return leg of the journey, having delivered its dummy load.
 
"Drone in sight," shouted an operator, as the craft appeared above the hill.
 
The drone, described by one observer as sounding like a nest of angry hornets, hovered above before steadily descending and touching down on the grass.
 
After the engines powered down, applause and cheers from the drone pilots broke the silence, with Walker heaving a sigh of relief.
 
The trial is due to run until June 5.





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